Guest Blogs, Origin Stories, The Writing Life

My Hero Origin Story

(Today we welcome guest USA Today bestselling author Naima Simone, talking about where she gets the inspiration for her heroes)

Very recently, my mother-in-love (not mother-in-law, ‘cause I luvs me some her!) asked me a question: Do you read anything besides romance? And let me put this out there, she wasn’t asking it to be ugly. Because my mom-in-love has read every single one of my books, owns almost all the print copies and they occupy a special place on her bookshelf. She was genuinely curious. I answered her honestly. I do read some mystery thrillers—Lisa Gardner is the ish!—but for the most part, I’m a romance reader. There’s so much variety in romance that I can find it all there. Comedy. Suspense. Sci-fi. Historical. Horror. Contemporary. Paranormal. And of course. Love.

I freely admit it. I’m in love with love.

From the time my mother read me my first fairy tale, I’ve been completely enamored with love and everything it entails. The falling into it. The pitfalls of it. The dysfunction of it. The joys and pain of it. The edification and complications of it. The heroines and heroes.

Especially those heroes.

Because the heroes are my romance origin story.

Now, I have a confession. My first books and stories? Horrible. Like, hide in a chest, lock it, bury it and order three viciously horned dragons and a puzzle-wielding Sphinx to guard it, horrible. Yeah. That bad. LOL! But the heroes in them shaped the ones I write now. Who were these heroes? So glad you asked.

The first romance I wrote starred Ralph Tresvant, lead singer of the boy band New Edition. Soft voice, romantic and obviously sensitive. I mean, he serenaded women, sooo… And though I nearly killed him off in my book (hey, didn’t I warn you it was terrible?!), my kiss did bring him out of that coma, so it all worked out in the end!

Naima’s notebooks

The next short story featured Oliver from Oliver Twist. He was so cute with his tortured past. Kid has abandonment issues written all over him. And yes, yes, I know, he has a happy ending, but seriously. You know he has serious emotional baggage. And I live for the tortured hero he’s destined to become!

I followed him up with Duke from G.I. Joe. Alpha, strong, honorable, man in control Duke. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved the action and excitement and the whole good vs. evil of the cartoon. But I also obsessively watched for Duke and Scarlett. To see when, and if, they would ever get together. And since they didn’t to my satisfaction, I wrote their story. Over and over again.

Then there was Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. Oh Donnie. *sigh* Bad boy. Rebel. A little wild. And from the way he could dance, you know he could…move. Whether he was a member of a boy band or a famous producer, or later, a millionaire, he provided the hero for several of my books and short stories. Including the one the first book I sold.

Naima’s first published novel

Though my writing has evolved—thank goodness!—the leading men in my books are all an amalgamation of my first heroes, my origin heroes. The core of honor, strength and alpha maleness of Duke. The sensitivity of Ralph. The tortured pain and hurt of Oliver. The bad boy wildness of Donnie. Their backgrounds, appearances and stories may change, but the heart of them remain the same.

Author bio:

Published since 2009, USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone loves writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark. Her books have been featured in The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and described as balancing “crackling, electric love scenes with exquisitely rendered characters caught in emotional turmoil.”

She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bullet proof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.

Origin Stories

Origin Story–AKA Amy in a nutshell

When I was asked to write an origin story, I was sure how to tackle it. I don’t feel like my life is exciting. I hear other stories about how authors were inspired to write that sound so much more exciting than my…I just always knew.

I can say that story telling did run in my family, though I never got to hear my paternal grandfather’s stories, but he was a frontier man. Born in 1885 (yes, 1885 for context he was 61 when my father was born), he left home at the age of twelve to work on building the rail roads across Canada and most importantly, to the north.

He was there when the famous Group of Seven artist Tom Thompson was murdered. Tom was a friend of his, they both had trap lines through Algonquin.

And he helped lay the foundation of the Polar Bear Express railroad that runs from Cochrane Ontario to Moosenee, Ontario. My father said his father was a story teller.

So this is my grandpa. The only picture I’ve ever seen of him.

My Dad said that one of his biggest regrets was not having a tape recorder to record his father’s stories. And he said that for as long as I could remember and from that moment I could remember, I always had stories in my head.

My grandfather died 11 years before I was born, yet I feel this sense of kinship with that story teller and when my father had to downsize to move in with my brother he bequeathed me the most precious gift of all…his father’s Underwood that travelled the north with him.

The thing is made of iron, so I don’t know how he carried this on his back all through the woods of northern Ontario.

I grew up not knowing much about my paternal family and I think that sparked some interest in story telling. I wanted to know more. My Input and Learner are in my top 10 Clifton Strengths for those who follow Strengths of Writers.

There was a missing piece.

And that piece was an identity that had to be hidden. My Metis heritage and as I grew more into my story telling and writing, I wanted to write more about families like my father. About characters who looked like my Dad. My Dad who had to hide who he was, who didn’t get to learn much about his heritage out loud or learn his language. My Dad played an important part in my desire to write. Although he doesn’t think so.

My Dad always jokes that it would take him months to write a page, so even though he wasn’t a natural story teller like his father, he gave me something else. He gave me the love of reading.

My Dad, my Mom and I was in the pram under the netting. Summer ’78.

Every night he read to me and I grew up surrounded by books. Mostly books written by Robert A. Heinlein and Asimov, or nonfiction books about Midway and Harley Davidsons, but my Dad gave me this great gift in loving stories.

And when I was eight, I read Anne of Green Gables and had a realization that L.M Montgomery was a real person and that you could have a job as a writer. He told me that. He told me all those authors I loved, the authors he loved were real people.

It was from that moment on I knew what I wanted to do.

I was going to be a writer.

It was the dream. Always.

I spent a few years getting sidetracked by guidance counsellors or teachers who thought it was a silly career aspiration to have, yet the stories kept coming out of me. I made up ridiculous stories about my friend groups in high schools that were passed between my besties.

The stories never stopped.

I got married, had my daughter. Stories were always there and I would jot down stuff when she napped, but I was afraid of failure. Afraid of losing. What if I didn’t have what it took?

And then came my second kid.

Who almost died.

And as I sat by his bedside, hoping for a miracle…I wrote. Only this time, I was going to take a chance. I would face rejection, because staring at my baby and realizing he may not live, like was too short to not LIVE. To not take chances.

A year later, when he was one, I sold to Ellora’s Cave.

I had done it. I was a story teller.

In 2013 I sold my first book to Harlequin, also a dream as it was my Mom and Nanny’s favourite things to read. I’m thankful my Mom got to read my first books, but my Nanny never did. Cancer took them both too soon.

And my Dad reads them. He’s so proud. And now my books are displayed on the shelve next to Heinlein. Although, we both write COMPLETELY different stuff.

It’s been a rough few years for me, so much loss, my diagnosis of autism and coming to learn how to navigate the world, but the stories don’t stop. They sometimes pause, but they keep coming, because I was always meant to do this.

So that’s me. Grand daughter of a frontier’s man, who is still learning her Metis heritage and still learning how to navigate my autism diagnosis, while mothering a son on the spectrum. We’re both very similar, so honestly when my diagnosis came down it wasn’t a shock.

I don’t think I could ever stop writing.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way. xo

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Creative Origins

As an author, I get asked a lot about when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. I wish I had a sweet story about knowing from childhood authorship was my destiny.

My journey, however, isn’t that tidy or straightforward. In fact, it’s a bit more like this:

I’ve had a lot of different jobs before becoming a published author: cashier, bank teller, certified medical assistant, college teacher and program head, risk management specialist, professional ballroom dancer, call center worker, and retail merchandiser.

In fact, up until I wrote my first book at the end of 2011 (after I had a dream that wouldn’t go away until I put it on paper), it never occurred to me to be an author. Now, that’s not to say I wasn’t a storyteller. I was an introverted only child, who always got along better with people twice my age than other kids, so making up tales to keep myself entertained was a daily occurrence. I just never thought to write any of them down.

Honestly, though, given my family history, I probably should have known I’d end up in some kind of creative field. After all, it is in my blood. Both my parents were artists. My mother was a graphic designer and my father was an interior decorator and visual merchandiser. My mom was also a dancer before she married my dad and she was a Rockette back in the 1950s and toured the country with the June Taylor Dancers.

My mom, front and center, in one of her 1950s costumed dance numbers.

Plus, my maternal grandparents were part of a trapeze/high wire act back in the 1920s and 1930s. The Flying Deislers worked for several major circus organizers in the US, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. They also performed for the Roosevelts at the White House and my grandmother was friends with Ginger Rogers. How cool is that?!?

Part of the Flying Deislers trapeze troupe. My aunt, Juanita (‘Neets’) Deisler, left. My uncle, Royal (‘Roy’) Deisler, center. And my grandmother, Georgia (‘Irene’) Deisler, right. Circa 1920s. Uncle Roy later also worked in Hollywood as a stunt man for Olympic swimmer and actor Johnny Weissmuller on the Tarzan movies.
Newspaper article from the 1945 for the Flying Royals, featuring my uncle Roy, center. They changed the name of the troupe after my grandparents left to raise a family.

So yeah. I guess a little of my ancestors’ creative drive was passed down to me, even though I can’t draw at all and you won’t find me swinging high in the air without a net. Nope.

Like I said earlier, I had a dream in 2011 that was basically the plot of my first published book in 2013, Seal of Destiny, a paranormal romance. My mom lived long enough to see it in print and was one of my first beta readers. I dedicated it to her and that story will always hold a special place in my heart. ❤️

My mom and I, circa early 2000s, when I was ballroom dancing. (Thus the fake tan, LOL! 😉😂)

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories, The Writing Life

Onward, to a Brighter Future

If last year were a pinecone…

Happy New Year, All!

I’m honored to have this very first blog spot of 2021 to talk about a subject dear to my heart. After the year just gone, (It That Shall Not Be Named, Which Will Live On In Infamy) I’m hoping for a fresh start, and progress toward a better world for us all, including within publishing. I’m hoping readers and writers alike will find this blog interesting, and informative, and something to consider as we move into this bright, (hopefully) shiny New Year.

Over the last decade or so, there’s been a sea-change coming in the publishing sphere, and not everyone has been comfortable with it, or able to understand why it was even necessary. I personally think it started with the advent of small presses and self-publishing. During that time, a number of authors began to get noticed in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Many had abandoned the hope of getting traditionally published because they’d tried, repeatedly, and been rejected, repeatedly.

In some cases, those rebuffs came not because they were poor, sub-standard writers, but because their characters didn’t conform to what was then deemed acceptable, or marketable.

Those authors were writing about characters the gatekeepers in traditional publishing had little to no interest in. Worse, they were putting those characters in situations deemed the milieu of white, Cis-het people, yet often they were neither of these things. Those authors were writing characters who were LGBTQ+, black, Asian, and every other race, creed, color, and nationality. They were writing all types of stories imaginable. Those tales were often raw, and real, and questioning of a society that seemed inclined toward ignoring the realities of lives outside the “norm.”

“Norm,” of course, being relative and subjective; a truth that is oft glossed over, and minimized when it is convenient.

Since then, I’m happy to say, things have improved in the way of diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there’s still a struggle ahead. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t have to be a concerted effort to attract diverse stories and authors, but we would all be judged, equally, on the quality of our work. And all good stories, no matter where they’re set, or who the characters are, would have an equal chance of publication.

We’re not there yet, but it’s heartening to see the initiatives and training being offered in the hopes of getting us, as an industry, to that point. It takes effort, and courage, to affect change. Clarity about, and understanding of situations and people that perhaps are alien to us has to be sought, and taken on board. Recognition of the barriers people have faced, and often still face, is imperative, as is the determination to break them down.

At Harlequin/Mills & Boon’s new Write for Harlequin website, they’ve added an entire section geared toward Diverse Voices, and I’m hoping it attracts the attention of authors from around the world. Category romance may sometimes seem to be the unwanted stepchild of the publishing world, but it’s wildly popular, and always in need of fresh, new voices.

On the website can be found lists of initiatives and outreach programs, including mentorships and scholarships, geared toward diverse writers. By reaching out to underrepresented groups, Harlequin has shown they’ve seen, and understood, the impediments many authors have historically faced, and are making the necessary changes to address the imbalance.

With the success of those initiatives, I hope to have a much widened pool of amazing authors to read. New voices, showing us life as we’ve never seen it before.

I want to be swept away to places I’ve never experienced, see them from an insider’s perspective, and learn more about this wondrous, amazing world we inhabit.

Meet new characters, with a range of issues brought about by family traditions, misunderstandings, driving desires, and many other delicious problems, but with twists only that author, with their particular knowledge and world-view, could write.

I want my mind blown, and expanded, by those new stories.

That’s why I read: to be transported, educated, and entertained by stories outside of my own personal knowledge. To lose myself in new places, and characters, and cultures.

To learn tolerance and understanding through being exposed to life as others live it, not just be mired in my own small world.

To me, that’s the magic of books, and I want to be enchanted by all this world has to offer.

Please visit the Write For Harlequin website, and encourage others who want to be published to do so, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or the personal barriers they face.

After all, while I, and other like-minded readers, still actively long for diversity, ‘inclusion’ means everyone.

There is more than enough success to go around, when we clear the way for all authors.

Christmas Flowers from my Hubby, which lasted all through the season!
Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Who Knew This Author Gig Was A Real Thing by Amy Andrews

I never wanted to be an author. There are author friends I know who maintain that from the age they could staple paper together, they knew they wanted to be a writer. Not me. I wanted to be a hairdresser when I was five and a kindy teacher when I was eleven and for a few years I wanted to be a travel guide in Greece because Greece. And then, when I was fifteen I was visiting my bestie in hospital and there were nurses all around in those cute old fashioned hats taking blood pressures and giving out pills and it hit me like a bolt from the blue – I wanted to be a nurse.

So, I became a nurse. Not an author.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that being an author was a job. That people actually did. Which is ludicrous because there were books – so many books! – and I loved books, slurping them up at every opportunity. But I’d never really given any thought to the writer behind the pages – just the story itself.

Until in 1991 for a period of six weeks, I found myself unemployed….

My husband and I were living in the UK on a working holiday. We’d moved to Milton Keynes where he’d taken a year contract with Abbey National bank and, after working in 2 nursing homes prior to the move, I declared I wasn’t working in another one and that I was holding out for a hospital job.

But, in the meantime, what was I to do? It was out first UK winter and it was freezing. The temperature hadn’t got above 0 for a week. I mean, the cobwebs on our house had frozen! Which is breathtakingly pretty but still….really freaking cold. Consequently, I needed something to do that didn’t involve me getting off my electric blanket while I waited to hear word about the various feelers I’d put out for a job in the NHS.

I know, I thought, I’ll write that book that’s in my head.

Okay, wait. Brake screech….

The what in the where? Yes….I was as surprised as you probably are given the previous paragraphs, to realise that the pictures and thoughts in my head were actually characters and dialogue and a plot. Up until that point it hadn’t occurred to me that it was a book. I just thought I had a…really vivid imagination.

But, in that moment of clarity, in that split second I decided what I was going to do with my time, I had no doubt at all, that it was a book.

Of course, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. As previously stated, I loved reading, I excelled at creative writing in English and, perhaps the biggest red flag of all, was the fact that throughout my childhood, my mother had always been tinkering away on a second hand typewriter writing her own book – a romance novel. I hadn’t realised it at the time, but she was laying the subliminal ground work for me. Watching her toil at her own creative endeavours had sown the seeds of conviction in my self-conscious – no matter how deeply – that anyone could write a book. Even me. You just had to sit your ass in the chair (or on the electric blanket) and do it.

Suddenly, it all made sense and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wrote that book long hand in ten days – a chapter a day. Yep, that’s right, ten chapters of 5000 words each just flew from my fingertips. It was like I cracked open a portal in my head that day – the creative portal – that I’ve never been able to shut. The door opened and I stepped over the threshold and shazam!    

That book didn’t succeed. The rejection after nine months was cutting in its brevity but thankfully it wasn’t a fatal blow. In fact, I always say that it wasn’t writing my first book that made me a writer but my first rejection that transformed me. Rejection made me determined – bloody minded my husband calls it – to succeed. To prove to the publisher and the world and me that I would succeed, that I would write a book that a publisher wanted to publish.

Rejection made me a writer.

Eighty books down, I know so much more than I did then and yet, perversely it feels I still know so little. But none of that matters – because I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and figure it out as I go along. With thanks to you guys, the readers, for your fierce love of books and reading.  

And to my mother, for paving the way.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Imagination was free.

When I was little, my parents didn’t have much money. What money there was, went on bills or usually, debts, so there was never anything left over to spend on something as extravagant as a book or magazine. Or toys. Everything I ever owned as  a child was second-hand. Clothes from an older girl from up the street (that never fit properly). Pyjamas from my three older brothers ( I had a great set with green tanks on) and anything else like shoes, were from a charity shop.

                So because of this scarcity in dolls and toys, I lived in my imagination and one day, I decided to go for a walk with my Dad to the local library, as he had some books to take back. I went with him and fell in love! With the smell of the place. The endless shelves, filled with tomes! And the fact that there was a separate room, just for children’s books, filled with beanbags and teddies and a dragon you could sit on.

                I begged for a library card and as it was free, I got one. I was allowed to take out eight books and so I did, marvelling at the card system and the stamper as it checked each book out. I chose Enid Blyton and read every Famous Five, or Secret Seven book I could lay my hand on. I read Black Beauty multiple times (which came in handy for a quiz as a teenager, when I was the only kid who knew the answer to ‘Who wrote Black Beauty?’ and won myself £10.)

                I quickly made my way through that children’s library and when I was eleven, I begged the librarians to let me take books from the adult’s section. They allowed it, as long as they could veto any, they thought were unsuitable for me (though I distinctly remember getting out a racy Sidney Sheldon and many doctor nurse romances by Claire Rayner.)

                I remembered thinking that authors were these strange creatures, who existed only in my imagination, all of them living someplace far away, like America, in houses made of gold and silver. I thought authors were magical creatures. Even though every night I would lay in bed thinking up my own stories and dreamed of being one myself. But I didn’t know any writers. It just seemed like a pipe dream.

                One year, I asked my parents for a typewriter. I’d been writing stories by hand for some time, taking them into school and letting my friends read them. Early reviews told me I was brilliant and could they have more, lol. But I didn’t think I’d get the typewriter. They were expensive and money was tight. But that Christmas, I got one. Second-hand, with a crappy ribbon that barely had any ink left on it, but I had one and by golly, I thought that made me a proper author!

                Tap, tap, tap. I think I drove my parents crazy. I wrote a letter to the local paper and it got published on their letters page. I wrote a short story about a mean woman who dumps a bag of kittens in a river that had nuclear waste in it, not realizing that one surviving kitten would come back and wreak revenge and THAT got published in an anthology. I was on a roll!

                But then, nothing seemed to happen. Nothing else got published. I saw my careers teacher at secondary and told her that I wanted to be a writer (this is 30 odd years ago, ahem!) and she said, “No, think of something proper you could do.” Was her response and she sent me to the knitwear factory where I worked for three years. I worked eight or nine hour shifts every day, head down over a lockstitch machine, thinking up stories.

                At the side of my mother’s bed, was a pile of Mills and Boons and I loved reading the blurbs on the back. A young teenage girl, reading about love and romance, what wasn’t there to love? Plus my older brother kept bringing back these paperbacks from authors such as James Herbert and Stephen King and I loved being frightened, too. That led me to JRR Tolkien, David Eddings and Terry Pratchett.

                Why couldn’t I write these things?

                So I started submitting to real publishers. I got The Writers and Artists Yearbook from my library and took notes of what people wanted, sending manuscripts out through the post (no internet or email back then!)

                It took me fifteen years of sending submissions to Mills and Boon, before I got The Call. Fifteen years of marriage and having four children inbetween making up stories when I could and when babies were asleep.

                And now here I am, 18 books in and with other short stories published in magazines and online.

                Sometimes, it’s really hard. Sometimes, it isn’t.

                You just keep having to chase the dream.

                As Kevin Costner would say, ‘If you build it, they will come.”

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

‘You Better Learn How to Type’

How a touch typist temp became a romance novelist…

My typewriter at home…

These were the wise, wise words of my grandmother when I told her I was going to be an actress when I grew up. ‘You better learn how to type.’ I did. And she was right. More than she ever could have known.

The original plan, of course, was to be an immensely famous actress for half of the year. By the age of twenty-one I had planned to be swanning around the world like Meryl Streep and only doing roles with exotic and hard to tackle accents. Natch. The other half of the year I was going to teach literature at America’s Gaulladet University – a centre of learning for deaf and hard of hearing student as its youngest and most passionate professor of English Literature. (I had learned sign language in a play and was DETERMINED to use it to spread my love of books. That should’ve been the first clue that I was destined to become a writer.

The second should’ve been the ten years I spent working for Associated Press as a news producer, writer and cameraman. Where, it should be noted, I was originally hired because of my very speedy typing. I transcribed a gazillion soundbites from the raw footage our crews sent in before graduating to the more glamorous job of inserting them into scripts and, eventually, going out into the field and filming stories.

Then, one day it hit me. I didn’t want to film the story. I wanted to WRITE the story. Luckily for me, I had a friend who dared me to try and write a Mills & Boon in a weekend. (We both wrote very quickly, had just written a play that had done well at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival and thought we were so WONDROUSLY TALENTED, surely we could each write a book in a weekend.

Well.

You can imagine how that went. (cue: wannnh-wonnnnh!)

Time passed. More jobs came and went. I filmed animals AND children. I worked for MTV for a spell and felt very, very old even though I was only thirty-five. My going away present there was a gorgeous stack of books. Everyone protested. ‘What? Books!?!?’ They cried. ‘Yes,’ said my dear friend Steven. ‘Have you not met her?’

I couldn’t let the writing bug go. I don’t like to fail. I also love to write. And then I found my magic ingredient. I fell head over heels in love with romance. I was taking inspiration from everything everywhere. (See above). And then…I actually fell in love with a tall blonde Scotsman. I didn’t even like blondes and I fell in love with him, dear reader! And in two weeks, I wrote my very first Mills & Boon. Which they rejected. But they also wrote an incredibly detailed and very encouraging letter back. So I tried again. And one more time. And then, after I’d taken a couple of years off and learned how to raise pigs and cows and bees…I tried one more time. And Lo and behold! The Surgeon’s Christmas Wish was born.

Is my first book my best? Who knows? It’s definitely one of my favourites. It’s definitely one of my favourite covers. I LOVE IT! My favourite favourite is probably The Nightshift Before Christmas. No. My ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE is whichever one I’m writing. Right now I’m writing one set in Hawaii with the working title, Aloha to Amour. I love it the most, too. And before that I loved the one with dogs the most. (Are you sensing a trend?)

So that’s it my little munchkins. The very, very long and winding road that finally led me to become a published author. And what a joyous arrival it has been. Tell me, what’s inspired you to do something you love?

xx Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Do Something with Your Writing!

I do not remember a time when I was not a storyteller. It’s cliché, but the truth. I was in my early twenties before I realized that other people didn’t put themselves to sleep by telling themselves a story in their head. I am in my late thirties now, and this is still how my brain shuts itself off.

Characters have been popping into my head for as long as I can remember. Some stay for a few hours, others are still crackling around years later. I have a fantasy heroine named Annabelle that has perpetually dropped in over the last decade. One day I may have to tell her tale—though maybe she is here only for me.

My first story

I was in the second grade when I wrote my first book. Here is a very proud me holding the book in the picture. Mrs. Jones required all her students to “publish” at least one book by the end of the year. This consisted of a few pages with author drawn pictures that the parents laminated and bound. I loved it—well, the writing part. I have never enjoyed drawing and if I had known how to hire an illustrator, and found one willing to work for lollipops, I would have gone that route!

 In high school my English teacher challenged all of us to write a short story. I say challenged, but it was a graded assignment. There are few assignments that I remember, but my short story was called Homeward Bound. While it didn’t strictly follow the rules for a romance, it was a love story. My first! I don’t remember the actual grade, but at the top of my page were the words Do Something with Your Writing.

I treasured those words. I held them close with the belief that one day I might claim success. Then I took a college creative writing course. And it destroyed my burgeoning belief in my skill.

I am not so naïve as to believe that my early work deserved straight As or even Bs. But I do think they deserved more than the Nothing will come of this statement they received.

While I can’t prove it, and my memory is jaded by time and temper, I think my first foray into the world of romance turned off my professor. The belief that characters deserved a happily ever after, rather than an angsty end, was not welcome. The world does not reflect this—another line attached to a story I wrote. Which I still find interesting in a CREATIVE writing class.

Unfortunately, my professor was right. The world often doesn’t provide a happily ever after. But sometimes it does. And EVERYONE, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, deserves one.  A truth I will scream from the mountains until my final breath.

I wish I had been strong enough to tell my professor I thought he was wrong. To point out the countless romance writers who’d made careers out of happily ever afters, to state with conviction that romance is the bestselling genre and it’s not even close (though that was a piece of info I didn’t have).

Instead, I let my voice be stolen. I packed away my pens and did my best to ignore the flame within me. But those five little words scrawled on the top of a short story refused to disappear from my heart. It took many years, more than I wish to revisit even now, but eventually I burst one evening and told my husband I wanted to write. I needed to get stories out.

We’d been married for many years at that point, had two children not yet in grade school, were both working full time—basically not the perfect recipe for putting words on the page—but he looked at me and said okay. Then he followed through and let me go spend an hour or two at the library each week without complaint that there were other more pressing things at home (see real romance heroes exist).

It took one ridiculous fantasy novel (I’ve shown the opening to the writer’s group I run, so they can see how far you can come–it’s bad), a few false starts and a historical romance that I have finally admitted is just my proof I could write a romance novel but its characters will only live in my mind, to get to published status.

But all these years later, I can say I did something with my writing. I mailed my first book, Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart, to my English teacher with a note of thanks. I did not mail it to my college professor (though I admit being tempted). 

I believe you should write what you want. And if that means angsty tragedies, go forth and conquer, but my stories will always leave you (and me) feeling happy. So tell the story growing on your heart, no matter what it is. 

Origin Stories

Kate Hardy: Origins of a Dream-come-true

Hello!

Today I’m here to talk about my ‘origin story’ and my journey to publication.

First book launch, November 2002

Nobody in my family is a writer.

Actually, that’s not quite true: my mum used to make up stories for me when I was tiny, though she never wrote them down. Had she lived, I think we would’ve become a mum-and-daughter writing team, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

Mum and me (plus a loyal, lovable third!)

But I was always odd. I come from a very working-class background. Yet, there I was, obsessed with books from the moment I was old enough to pick one up. I could read from a precociously early age, and the quick way for my parents to keep me occupied was to give me a pencil, paper and a title (haha — not that dissimilar from how things work nowadays, because I never get my own titles!).

I talked my parents into giving me a portable typewriter for my sixth birthday because I wanted to be a writer. I typed away happily, creating pony stories and ghost stories. Everyone in the family (and at school) knew I was a bit strange. At eight or nine, we had to come up with three questions we really wanted to know the answer to. Others had questions such as, ‘How often should you feed your dog?’ Not me. No. The weird child in the class had other things on her mind. Exactly how far away is the moon? Who was the shortest-reigning queen in history? How long after you bury a body does it become a skeleton? (Fortunately my teacher knew I wanted to be an archaeologist and had already lent me books on Egypt. And my mum was amazing — she’d worked out that I was born to tell stories, and encouraged me to keep going.)

Mum

And then, when I was 13, I discovered M&B. (Sara Craven’s ‘The Devil at Archangel’ — years later, I was thrilled to meet her and tell her how she’d inspired me. And how amazing was it that she became my real-life friend, someone who met me at author events with a huge, huge hug?)

My romances didn’t get very far at that age, but I kept writing — very Tolkienesque stories (which I think might be lurking somewhere in the loft, along with reams of terrible poetry). I tried M&B again about ten years later, and was too young and naive to realise that a four-page rejection letter from M&B doesn’t actually mean ‘go away and never darken our doorway again’. So I wrote other stuff (including ghost stories — one of which was published by Virago), and lots of journalism. I wrote some raunchy novels. But, all the time, I wanted to write romance.  

And then, when I was pregnant with our daughter, my husband asked me why I didn’t try writing M&B Medicals, given that I loved romance and loved medical dramas on TV. Good point. So I read a few. They all seemed to be written by Aussie doctors, so I thought I probably wouldn’t fit.

But everything all changed the day I was writing an article about bronchiolitis (RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Chloe, aged 6 weeks, had this horrible cough. It was a couple of days before Christmas. Was I being paranoid, or was she showing the signs of everything I was writing about? I went for the cautious option (I’d much rather be called an overanxious parent than ignore something serious!) and called the doctor. Yes, indeedy, that was intercostal recession I was seeing. Textbook case. Half an hour after our appointment, Chloe was in hospital for a nasal swab, and she tested positive for RSV. She was on the ward for a week — on oxygen, fed by nasogastric tube.

The only way I got through that week at her bedside was to start writing my first Medical Romance. Once she was back home, I carried on. My agent loved it. M&B loved it. A Baby of Her Own was accepted on Chloe’s first birthday and published on her second birthday.

Chloe, a couple of months after bronchiolitis

Fast forward to today: she’s going to be twenty in a couple of weeks, and I’m currently working on my 94th M&B.

The point is: it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. If you want to write, then WRITE, and don’t let anything hold you back. Read craft books, yes, but don’t let yourself be boxed in by them; not everyone works the same way, and not every method works for every writer. If you’d rather work ‘into the mist’ (aka ‘pantster’) that’s fine, and if you’d rather plan everything up front (aka ‘plotter’), that’s also fine. Ditto being in the middle and doing a bit of both. Try it, and use what works for you.

No time? Then put half an hour in your diary every day. That could break down into two blocks of 15 minutes or 3 blocks of 10 minutes: whatever works with your schedule. Make sure you ringfence that time and do it every day. In that time, you write and do nothing else but write. Don’t edit, and don’t overthink or worry about the future: write. It doesn’t matter if it’s on screen, or scrawled with a pencil on paper (as long as you can read it!). One page (500 words) per day for 100 days will get you a first draft of a Mills & Boon in a little over 3 months. That’s when you start editing. The main thing is: write, because you can always change a page that doesn’t work, whereas a blank page gives you nothing to work with.

As for me: lockdown and Covid have both reminded me that life is short, so I’m sneakily writing the book of my heart. It’s something very, VERY unmarketable, so I might end up writing it just for me: but the story’s there and it won’t go away. Maybe it’s time to listen to my own advice… 😉

Oh, and my family? They all still think I’m weird. But I hope they’re quietly proud of me.

Image by Elchinator from Pixaby
Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Girls Can’t Do Physics

(Top image from Pixaby)

There are many different quotes that have shaped my life and my writing.  ‘Girls can’t do Physics’ is one of them.

Mr M. was the Head of the Physics department at my school.  At the end of the 1970’s it was considered quite all right to express such an opinion, and he used to say it so often that it became a wry joke amongst the girls he taught.

In truth, this worked to my advantage.  At age sixteen our sixth form syllabus offered a choice of either English Literature or Physics and although Physics was the obvious option in terms of the other subjects I was studying, I wanted very badly to study English Literature.  So ‘Girls can’t do Physics’ played straight into my hands 🙂  (I’ll add that my mother, who was fiercely determined that her girls would have the opportunity to do whatever we set our hearts on, was well aware that I was doing exactly as I wanted, so held her tongue.)

I did, however, study Chemistry.  The Head of the Chemistry Department was less vociferous on the subject of what girls could and couldn’t do but when we arrived in the Chemistry Lab on the first day of term, we found him no less opinionated.  He re-arranged us, putting all of the girls in the back row and the boys in the two front rows.  When someone put their hand up and asked why he told us that in these ‘modern times’ he was sadly unable to bar girls from his senior classes, but since he believed us unlikely to succeed, he intended to concentrate on educating the boys.

So we protested – with all the fervour of teenagers who can taste the sweet nectar of change.  The Headmaster made sympathetic noises, claiming to understand exactly how we felt.  But we had to understand that some of the older teachers needed time to catch up with the idea that girls could excel in the sciences.  We were sent back to the Chemistry Lab to resume our places in the back row.

Some of the girls in my class overcame the obstacles by working twice as hard, and when national exam time came around they smashed their way through the first of a succession of glass ceilings.  For my own part I had a very serious crush to contend with, and that didn’t leave me a great deal of spare time for extra Chemistry.  Will Shakespeare might have been more than 400 years my senior, but since when did the sixteen year old heart bother about little things like that?  I wondered whether true love had turned me into a traitor to my cause, but I couldn’t help the way I felt.  If the sciences didn’t want me, that was actually fine, because I didn’t want them.

Did I cave in under pressure and miss out on a glittering career in science?  I think not – Will still leaves me slightly weak at the knees, and I don’t regret the choices I made back then.  But it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and decided to do some Open University science courses in my spare time, that I realised what I’d missed out on at school.  The elegant synergy in great books, plays and poetry, didn’t seem to be so far removed from the cause and effect of Science and Mathematics.  We were shown how weirdly beguiling fractal patterns worked, taught the mathematics of a rainbow, and for the first time I realised that Science can also be incalculably beautiful.

Things are better now, of course, but many girls are still less encouraged to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, and women are still under-represented in STEM professions worldwide, particularly at high levels.  In 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations established The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to be celebrated on 11th February.  If you’d like to see more facts and figures, and how UNESCO and UN-Women are working to encourage girls and women in science, here’s the link.

scan-27-copy-1I’ll finish with another quote, which is much closer to my heart.  My great-aunt was born in Queen Victoria’s reign, one of eight sisters, and was considered the beauty of the family.  By all accounts she’d been a little wayward in her youth, and in her old age she’d become a kindly and fragile lady, whose most fervent wish was to get through the day without the slightest hint of discord.  Even as a child I knew that she was both clever and perceptive.

When I got a place to study English Literature at University, I was despatched off to visit various elderly relatives, to impart the news in person.  I dutifully ignored those who appeared to believe that I’d be spending the next three years reproducing the complete works of Jane Austen in cross-stitch, or who told me that this would be a pleasant, if slightly unnecessary, interlude before finding a husband made my own career irrelevant.  I’d heard it all before and learned that loving my great aunts and uncles didn’t mean I had to accept their outlook on life.  But it was something of a relief when my great-aunt propelled me into the kitchen for tea-making and biscuit-choosing duties.

As soon as we were alone, she sat me down, and grabbed both of my hands, holding on so tight that I was concerned she might be unwell.  She told me that I wasn’t to listen to anyone who said my degree would be of less value because I was a girl.  And then the words that I’ll always remember, because they were spoken with a passion I’d never seen in her before.  ‘I would have loved to have had the chance to go to University.  You go.  Do it for me.’

In the face of those words, ‘Girls can’t…’ dissolves in a puff of ineffectual smoke.

And that’s shaped my writing.  My heroines can do Physics, Chemistry, or whatever else they choose, and my heroes are man enough to accept that without even having to think about it.  If that’s the way the world works today, it does so because of the determination of my fellow occupants of the back row, and the women who came before us and encouraged us to take up the opportunities they never had.

Of course, once you’ve learned to question bias, it’s a difficult habit to break.  So before I allow them to slip from my thoughts for good, I’d like to thank my old headmaster and my physics and chemistry teachers.  Somehow, despite all of your efforts, you did manage to teach me one thing of great value.