Today we welcome Harlequin Special Edition author, Sera Taíno to our Origin Stories feature.
It’s all my mother’s fault.
When she was a teenager, my mother, together with my entire family, moved to Jersey City, NJ from Puerto Rico. Her first language was Spanish, so her English wasn’t very good. As a result, she struggled in school, which led her to drop out and eventually earn her GED. To improve her language skills, she set herself the task of reading books in English, but as a single mother with two children, money was often tight, so she either borrowed from the library, or went to the used bookstore to buy bags of Harlequin category romances for ten cents each. She could have read anything, but I think she simply loved romance novels so much, she wasn’t going to let a little thing like language get in the way of reading them. She kept only her favorites before trading the other ones in for more.
She always kept those favorites in the bottom drawer of her end table, away from prying eyes. But I was a rather naughty child and the fact that she kept something to herself made me all the more curious to know what she was hiding. So of course, I snuck into this drawer and stole her books.
The moment I started reading those novels, I fell in love with the stories and the characters I found inside. They were so much better than the stories I was assigned to read in school! I was a precocious reader and by the end of elementary school, I was reading at a college level. I might have been too young for some of the themes in those Harlequins but they challenged me as well as entertained me, unconsciously mapping in my brain what I would look for in future stories. I graduated from nicking the books in my mother’s drawer to browsing the ones in her bag to find favorites of my own.
These stories made me incredibly happy. No matter how hard things got for those beloved characters, there was always the promise of a happy ending. Real life rarely works out that way. My mother passed suddenly the summer before my freshman year of high school and I was sent to live with my grandparents. But the romances I’d read all those years before had done their work. They gave me a model for optimism, to hope when things were hopeless. This was my third act break-up, my black moment. But every character I read made it through their crisis to get to something better. I knew somehow that I, too, would survive.
I started to consider writing as a career later in life because it simply did not occur to me that this could be within the realm of possibility. As an adult, I dabbled in poetry and short story writing, but my stories didn’t find a lot of success in writing workshops. They were far too centered on the relationship between characters, and weren’t gritty or experimental enough for my fellow authors. At the time, I had already begun writing fanfiction. Those more positive reader reactions showed me that there was interest in the kind of stories I loved to write. The feedback gave me the motivation to believe that I might be able to write something of my own, something that people outside of fandom could read as well.
I wrote many short romances and novels that were not great, but those stories were a means to an end. I learned through failure. I took writing classes to learn the craft of romance writing and became mindful of the writing process as I taught others to write in my chosen profession as a high school teacher. For years, I wrote and submitted, getting rejection after rejection, until my stories began finding homes in anthologies and collections.
And then the Harlequin Mentorship came around and everything changed! I was given the opportunity to learn, from beginning to end, all the elements of how a romance novel is brought from proposal all the way to publication. I was assigned a wonderful, patient editor who helped me develop as a writer and a professional. I learned to edit down an unwieldy manuscript and make it fit the requirements for a category. I even drafted a second novel with the category in mind, putting into practice what I learned.
I can’t even describe what it means to have that kind of insight. So much of what happens in publishing is usually hidden from new writers so this mentorship has been a gift to someone like me who had absolutely no clue. It was like coming full circle. The girl who scrabbled through her mother’s Harlequin romances became the woman who wrote them. Who would’ve thought?
And now, my first book with Harlequin Special Edition, A Delicious Dilemma, will be in stores September, 2021. Like my dedication says, I think my mother would have liked this one.
Excerpt: A Delicious Dilemma
The truth was, he invited Val to the fundraiser because he wanted to spend time with her. Take her on another quasi date. Watch her glee as she tasted all the delightful things his mother had likely planned for the dinner. Have an excuse to dress up and dance badly with her and hear her make a joke or observation about something he wouldn’t have dreamed of seeing the way she did. No wonder he’d vomited his feelings all over her.
She’d been so stunned, she’d had nothing to say in return.
She’d accepted the invitation anyway, because it would serve her purpose. She had always been clear about what her motivation was for engaging with him ever since she’d found out who he was. Unlike him, she’d never lied.
So when he drove up to her building and stepped out to ring her doorbell the night of the fundraiser, there was no reason for his stomach to be twisted in knots. He had no reason to worry about his appearance, which even he had to admit was pretty damned impeccable. And there was absolutely no reason for his heart to be pounding as if it were going to leap out of his chest and run off into the night. That was not what he was here for.
Except that when the metallic buzz of Val’s doorbell reverberated within, and the fluorescent bulb in the corridor flared to life like a clutch of fireflies, he felt like it was prom night all over again. He stepped back when the door opened, the light illuminating her from behind, and his capacity for flimsy rationalizations disappeared. Words gnarled in his throat and all that came out was, “Wow.”
Val turned away, hiding a small smile. The green fabric drew light from the earthy undertones of her skin, making her appear illuminated from within. Her curls, the ones he wished he could bury his fingers in, were neatly tucked up, two perfect ones dangling like strings of dark pearls around her face, exposing a long neck bedecked by her ever-present rosary. His eyes raked over her, unable to find a place to rest because every single part of her demanded his attention.
“Val,” he said, her name an ache in the middle of his chest. He lost all track of his heart—maybe it had already left his body.
She took a step toward him, stumbling on her golden heels, and was suddenly in his arms.
“I got you.” He hadn’t held her since they’d last danced together, and in his opinion, in his arms was right where she needed to be. Nothing had changed since that first time except how much he wanted her, a need that was growing to unbearable proportions.
“It’s like a movie,” she said, her words suffused with that hint of humor she wasn’t afraid to turn on herself. “Girl undergoes transformation, girl almost falls on her face. Boy catches her.”
“What happens afterward?”
She straightened, smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles of her dress. “If the writers are fair, the boy would fall, as well.”
No problem there. This boy had already fallen.
Preorder your copy and receive a bonus! Just screenshot/forward preorder receipts via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you Sabor de Casa, an exclusive recipe book, courtesy of the Navarro Family Restaurant. Includes 10 recipes for dishes mentioned in the novel, with detailed instructions on how to prepare them as well as a few snippets of Val’s opinion. Because she has opinions. So many opinions.
Debut romance author Sera Taíno was selected for Harlequin’s Romance Includes You Mentorship, an initiative launched in 2019 to reach out to diverse communities of writers and bring more own voices stories to romance readers. For more information on this initiative, click here.
She is also the author of several short contemporary romances, including her latest, “The Other Half,” in the Friends to Lovers: A Steamy Romance Anthology Vol 2 (Romancing The Tropes) and “Oil and Vinegar,” part of the A More Perfect Union: A Voting-Themed Romance Benefit Anthology. All proceeds benefit Fair Fight, a national voting rights organization based in Georgia.
Her debut, #ownvoices novel, A Delicious Dilemma, is scheduled for publication with Harlequin Romance Special Edition in September 2021.
When she is not writing, she can usually be found teaching, traveling, or wrangling her family.
Be sure to sign up for her Mailing List to stay up to date on future publications.