Origin Stories

Romance Class by Mina V. Esguerra

Hi, it’s Amy stepping in for Ann who is on vacation, but since I am the one who met our Friday origin story I am completely honoured to be introducing you to Mina V. Esguerra and her class of Philippine authors.

Mina spoke at the Toronto Northern Hearts Conference about seeing a gap in own stories in the Philippines. She started a group to write romance books that represent themselves in stories and covers. They produce their own amazing stories and I was so impressed with the amazing work they are doing and the stellar stories they are producing.

Including Medical Romance!

I knew I had to reach out to Mina and she interviewed her authors who write medicals. I do hope you check out these authors amazing books. Thank you to Mina V. Esguerra, Celestine Trinidad, Suzette de Borja, Angeli E. Dumatol and EK Gonzales.

It’s time for medical romance in the Philippines, an interview with doctor-authors Celestine Trinidad, Suzette de Borja, Angeli E. Dumatol, and EK Gonzales

It’s time for medical romance in the Philippines, an interview with doctor-authors Celestine Trinidad, Suzette de Borja, Angeli E. Dumatol, and EK Gonzales

by Mina V. Esguerra

Hello, everyone! My name is Mina V. Esguerra, romance author and founder of the #RomanceClass community. We are Filipino authors of romance in English and we’ve been writing and publishing books since 2013. Our community has helped over 80 Filipino authors write and publish since then, and most of us aren’t full-time romance authors. It’s been fun seeing how people who join the community as readers and authors find each other because of a common background or profession, and this year several of our authors (who also happen to be doctors) released their first medical romance anthology together. It’s called The Doctor Is In Love and it’s available worldwide on Amazon and all other retailers.

I talked to the anthology’s authors and asked them about their work in the medical field and romance writing!

Mina: Hello, docs! Please introduce yourself, and I hope you can mention something about your work (as a doctor and as an author).

EK: I’m EK (English pronouns they/them). I support the #romanceclass community. This is my first story under #romanceclass. I’m usually a speculative fiction writer, and an advocate for Filipino comics. My specialization is Family Medicine (sometimes called General Practice).

Angeli: I’m Angeli, and I’m currently a nuclear medicine physician-in-training. I write YA and NA romance, and my work includes Heartstruck (RomanceClassFlicker #1), How to Write a Novel in 7 Days, and a couple of stories included in anthologies.

Suzette: Hi. I’m Suzette de Borja. I’m a dermatologist by training but I also love to write. I’ve written several romance novellas and short stories.

Celestine: Hi! I’m Celestine. My specialty as a doctor is Pathology, so I don’t deal directly with patients anymore. I work mostly in the laboratory, reading biopsies, optimizing laboratory tests, and on occasion, performing autopsies. 

My first contemporary romance novella is “Ghost of a Feeling”, which is also technically a medical romance, as the main character of the story is a fourth year medical student, and deals with mental health issues that medical students and doctors face. I have also written short stories set within the same universe of this novella, which are included in anthologies (Make My Wish Come True, 12 Months of Romance, 24 Reasons to Love anthology), as well as an episode of the romanceclass web series, Hello Ever After. Currently I’m working on a young adult romance novella for the Flicker series, “Hearts and Sciences”, which is, this time, connected to my story in the The Doctor Is In Love anthology.

I’ve also written other stories in other genres, including fantasy, science fiction, crime, and children’s fiction.

Mina: As a romance reader I love that you released a medical romance anthology—it feels like we finally get to see this with characters like us. How did you put this together and why?

EK: It’s been both a dream among the #romanceclass members who are doctors, and something of a wish from the rest of the community. Prior to this anthology doctor characters have already appeared in other general anthologies and some novels (ie Celestine Trinidad’s Ghost of a Feeling).

Angeli: …Who better to write stories about doctors than actual doctors? It was an opportunity for us to feature the realities that come with our profession while at the same time, providing the hope and kilig and happy that we’ve all come to love about romance stories.

Suzette: …It would be a great idea to collaborate on a medical themed romance from people who are from that same field.

Celestine: While there are already a number of medical romances in the market, we still wanted to read more, hehe — and we personally wanted more stories set here in the Philippines…Since we were in the field ourselves, we had firsthand knowledge of the practice of medicine and the life of a doctor, and how romance can actually happen for us, given the constraints (busy schedules, the constant emergencies, etc), and also aware of possible ethical issues that may arise from these relationships.

Mina: I’ve read (and watched) medical romance but usually US books or foreign series…How is practicing medicine different in the Philippines and how would that affect romance fiction that involves it?

EK: The Philippines is still a bit slow in implementing the 8- or 12- hour ideal duty hours, and thus we still have the pre (8 hours) -duty (24 hours) -post/from (4 or 8 hours after duty) system. This causes the ‘everybody is tired’ that most commenters have already noted about the anthology.   😀  

Also, most medical shows from the USA, Japan, and South Korea show an ideal medical world (even if I am very aware of the problems that also hound America’s health system). Medical training and being a practicing doctor in the Philippines means you have to daily deal with poverty and inequality. Besides the fact that the Philippines uses the American health insurance and health card systems, with all the many capitalist problems with it, there is also dealing with medical problems using very limited resources and out-of-pocket payments by the very poor and working class who could not afford proper medical care. All this affects the heart and soul of each doctor.

Angeli: Medical training in the Philippines entails a 4-year pre-med education, plus another 4-years in medical school proper, followed by a post-graduate internship year before finally being able to take the licensing exams. Passers are then able already to practice as general practitioners, but there is an option to pursue more specialized training through residency and eventually fellowship programs. So, it’s really not uncommon for medical students in their early 20s to still be dependent on their parents for the duration of that long education, especially in a country like the Philippines, where family is essentially part of culture. So I’d say that family would still very much affect any medical fiction set in the country.

Also, the Philippine healthcare system is still mostly dependent on out-of-pocket expenses of patients. While there is a national health care insurance system in place as well as health plans provided for those in the private working sector, the coverage of these is often lacking – which is to say, patients would still need to shell out additional costs. So these kinds of problems would no doubt pop up in stories regarding medical practice here in the country.

Suzette: Having practiced my profession in Manila, I can only draw from my experiences as a doctor here. Maybe readers with medical backgrounds from another place would be able to pick up if there are any differences in what I’ve written 🙂

Celestine: One way the practice of medicine is different in the Philippines is that doctors here tend to have multiple part-time jobs in more than one hospital/institution, unlike in other countries (like the US). On top of that, they are often part of the academe as faculty in medical school, too. This leads to doctors having to travel around a lot, sometimes to places outside of their own city, unlike in other countries where the salary they get from one place is enough to get by. This would affect romance fiction too because the schedule of doctors would be even more irregular compared to how it is portrayed in media outside of the Philippines. But I think it also leads to very interesting scenarios that can be great for romance, and would be unique to our setting, e.g. getting stuck in traffic while on the way to a referral, having to travel together to another town, etc. 

Also, many places in the Philippines are still lacking in resources when it comes to healthcare, including equipment, supplies, and medicines. This also affects the setting of romance fiction, as many conflicts can arise from this difficulty, but also it makes it even sweeter, somehow, when you still get a HEA after all that?

Mina: Your anthology cover models are actual doctors! How did you find them and how did you ask them to be part of it?

Angeli: We were truly determined to find actual doctors to act as our models for the cover to add to the authenticity of the anthology! I’m friends with Biel [Faundo], who was my co-intern back in med school, and she actually modeled for one of my books before. 

Celestine: When we were thinking of the cover for the anthology, we thought it would also be nice if we could have doctors on the cover, because we felt they could best represent our characters. It was fun too, actually how specific to the field our directions during the shoot were (“Look as happy as if your patient is finally going to be discharged!”, etc). Also, we knew a number of doctors who also had experience with modeling, so it would be a great way to feature them too. Alec Duñgo used to be one of the contestants for the reality show Pinoy Big Brother Teens. Biel Faundo has joined pageants before, and even finished at the top 10 in the Mutya ng Pilipinas pageant, which was amazing actually because even before I had known that, I had already decided that the main character for my story would have this exact same back story! So I said we really needed her on the cover too, and she agreed. Then we asked around for two more so each of our stories can also have a cover model. A friend of mine introduced us to Deanne Paglinawan, and Angeli’s mother introduced us to Carlo Castillo, thus completing the set!

Mina: Which parts of your story could really happen and which parts are total romantic fantasy?

EK: Medicine everywhere is one of the more conservative communities, and worldwide there are still concerns that medical personnel take a long time to understand SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression). Add to that the already conservative and still religious culture of the country, it is therefore rather hard to have an open lesbian, gay, bisexual, or pansexual relationship in the Philippine medical world, and having a different gender identity (transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, intersex) is still not fully accepted in many places. 

It is still the dream that LGBTQIA+ medical professionals will be accepted without question, and not just because of their skill as a professional, but for themselves. 

The circumstances that caused the ‘there is one bed’ [in EK’s story The Days of Rain and Flowers] is quite realistic, especially when the medical conference is held outside the capital. The hotels, inns, and transient houses around the area of the conference would fill up for the conference quickly, and sometimes online reservations get lost.

Angeli: For The Doctor is in Love, I wrote ‘First Cut’ which is a rivals-to-lovers story about two young doctors competing for a single neurosurgery residency training slot. The story focuses on pre-residency and all the hardships that come with it, which are very much a reality, and I’d like to think that finding love during that difficult time is a possibility, rather than an impossibility. Being subject to such stresses and getting through challenges together creates a special bond between individuals, so it’s definitely possible! 

The suturing scene is maybe the most memorable part of my story, and although it is still best to do as such at a more sterile area like the hospital, we can actually do simple suturing procedures at home! It would not be surprising for doctors in cutting specialties to have surgical instruments available in their houses.

Suzette: All of them can really happen hahaha. 

Celestine: In my story, a lot of things can really happen. Doctors do research too on top of clinical work. And yes, you can definitely fall in love with your research partner, haha. 

Also, as some of us are given the chance to go abroad for further training, we do sometimes have to make a choice to leave or stay, given the many difficulties with the practice of medicine in our country. 

Many people opt to leave. So I think what I did with my story is not a very common choice that is made, so maybe it can be said that part of it is fantasy? But…I still believe that this can still happen, even in real life.

The Doctor Is In Love is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B092T8454C

More books from the RomanceClass community listed here: romanceclassbooks.com 

Thank you for coming here and sharing! If you want to find out more about these awesome authors please check the link above!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Sera Taíno: Origin Story

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 seraspromos@gmail.com, 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.⁠

https://books2read.com/u/mvqP7X

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.

Excerpts, Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

Origin Story: Kathy Douglass

Today we welcome Harlequin Special Edition author, Kathy Douglass to our Origin Stories feature.

Books have always been an important part of my life. I remember as a kid my mother reading Hop on Pop and Go Dog, Go to me and my siblings. I loved those times. But as much as I enjoyed having a book read to me, I loved being able to read to myself. I loved the freedom of being able to escape into the pages of a book whenever I wanted. And let me tell you, that was quite often. 

Our house was filled with books. I’m talking floor to ceiling, two books high and two books deep bookshelves. We had boxes of books in the attic as well as the basement. When I was a kid, I “found” age-appropriate books on the dining room table or the piano bench. I was an adult before I realized that my parents were actually leaving the books out for me (and my brothers and sisters) to read. 

As I got older, I began to go through the boxes in the attic and basement. I found some of my older brother’s Hardy Boys and some of my older sister’s Bobbsey Twins and became an instant fan of both. But it never occurred to me that I could actually write books of my own. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I even considered writing. 

The first time I thought of writing, I was on vacation with my best friend. As the plane was landing at the airport, I remember wishing I had a pen and paper so I could describe what I was feeling. And then a story formed in my mind. I told my friend about it and she agreed that it sounded intriguing. And then we went on with our vacation.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a mother with two small children. I had an idea for a story and once more told my best friend about it. She reminded me that I had talked about writing a book all those years ago.  I had forgotten. Somehow in the busyness of life, I had forgotten my dream. Well, this time I was determined that I wasn’t going to let my dream vanish without even attempting to make it a reality.

In the beginning finding the time and energy to write was hard. My responsibilities hadn’t vanished just because I had renewed my interest in writing. I bought some spiral notebooks and when my kids were in preschool or napping, I wrote some really horrible romances. And then one day, my husband surprised me with a computer. He said if I was going to be an author, I needed the proper tools. 

His faith in me sustained me when the rejection letters piled up. “The next book will be the one,” he’d say.

Eventually his prediction came true. 

My first book with Harlequin Special Edition, How to Steal the Lawman’s Heart, was published in February, 2017. Since then, I have published many more books with them. My latest, Redemption on Rivers Ranch, will be in stores on May, 25.

Excerpt: Redemption on Rivers Ranch

Lights were blazing in the house. No one was supposed to be there.

Carson considered calling the sheriff but decided against it. Only the world’s worst criminal would turn on every light in the house. He’d assess the situation and go from there.

Pulling into the driveway, he noticed an SUV with out-of-state license plates. Mrs. Johnson had given him a key to the house, so he headed up onto the porch, opened the door and stepped inside.

Whoever was inside had made themselves at home. They’d dropped suitcases by the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Music was blaring from the back of the house. Someone was singing at the top of her lungs. The fact that she was nowhere in the vicinity of the right key didn’t stop her from singing with gusto. Her attempt to hit a high note pierced his ears and propelled him forward if only to save his hearing.

A child laughed.

What in the world was going on here?

Carson stepped into the kitchen. A woman and girl of about seven were dancing around the old Formica table, trying to convince a boy who looked about ten to join them. The boy was leaning against the sink, his arms folded over his chest, clearly uninterested in participating in the revelry. The woman laughed and the sound struck a chord inside Carson, stirring a distant memory inside him. He silenced the echo, focusing on the matter at hand.

The intruders were so wrapped up in each other that they hadn’t noticed him. He twisted the knob on Mrs. Johnson’s ancient radio, silencing the music.

The woman spun around, then pushed herself in front of the girl. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” 

By rights Carson should be the one asking questions. “I’m the owner’s neighbor. Who are you?”

The woman stepped closer, sizing him up. She studied his face for so long that she could have been searching for an answer to life’s mysteries. After a long moment, she smiled. “Carson?”

He nodded and looked at her more carefully. The coffee-colored eyes danced with mischief. It couldn’t be. Fifteen years had passed since his friend had visited. But looking closer at her beautiful face with clear light brown skin, high cheekbones and full lips, he knew it was her. “Gabriella?”

She launched herself at him, squeezing him in a tight hug. “It’s been years.” 

“Yes, it has.” He’d been invited to her wedding years ago, but hadn’t attended. Carson hugged her briefly, then stepped back and forced himself to ignore the way his body reacted to the contact.   

Holding Gabriella had felt like sticking his finger into a live electric socket. And when they ended the hug, his blood was still humming. He smothered the response. He might be the son of a killer, but he’d never hit on married women. He wouldn’t start with his childhood friend.

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Kathy is a born reader who as a child always had her nose in a book. That love of reading grew with her and she went from reading Bobbsey Twins to long romance novels. Then she started law school and her reading was limited to legal opinions. One day she discovered Harlequin romance novels. They were a perfect fit for her busy life. She could complete her required reading and enjoy a romance novel. 

When her first child was born, Kathy stopped practicing law to become a stay at home mom. Her second child followed nineteen months later. With two little ones in the house, reading suddenly became limited to children’s books. 

All too soon her children were attending pre-school two hours a day. She spent those few precious moments renewing her relationship with romance novels. After a while she felt the urge to write the stories she wanted to read – sweet, small-town contemporary romances featuring African American characters. 

Kathy’s first book was published with Harlequin Special Edition in 2017. Since then, she’s published nine additional books and one short online read with Harlequin. When she’s not writing, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family.

Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

How a Love of Reading Turned into a Career

Today we welcome a special guest, Harlequin Romance author, Therese Beharrie, to our Origin Stories feature.

The first time my mother took me to a library, I was shocked. I had already loved reading, so the shelves of books were a dream come true. There were so. many. books. As I worked my way through them, I discovered my favourite parts were always romantic. If there was no romance, or the romance, in my opinion, was inadequate, I would make it up. (That’s how Nancy Drew and Ned ended up married with three children, all of whom shared their mother’s inquisitive nature, in my head.) By the time my cousin slipped me my first Mills & Boon—when I was much too young to read them—she was introducing me to a genre I had already fallen in love with, albeit unknowingly.

I don’t know at what point that love turned into a desire to write romance. All I know was that for as long as I can remember, that’s what I wanted to do. In my final year at university, I realised that if I was serious about this dream, I needed to see if I could actually write. In the same year, I discovered the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition. It felt like fate, so for the first time in my life, I tried my hand at a writing a full-length romance novel.

And finished the worst thing I’ve ever written.

(At least, so I hope.)

The first chapter was in good enough shape to enter the competition though, and I made it through to the second round. I didn’t win, but I got the attention of an editor. She was the same editor who reached out after I entered the following year’s competition. We worked together to make my entry worthy of a publication contract with Mills & Boon, and here I am, five years and nineteen books later.

I’d tell any aspiring author to never give up on their dreams. It doesn’t matter how unlikely you think becoming published is—the chances are almost always higher than you think. You only need to take a chance on yourself.

Because if you don’t, who will?

Image of Therese Beharrie

Therese Beharrie is a South African romance author of several acclaimed novels, including her One Day to Forever series. She takes pride in writing diverse characters and settings, and her books are often recommended for their heart and banter. She lives in Cape Town with her husband, her inspiration for every hero, and two adorable baby boys.

You can find her on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and Bookbub, or catch up with her on her writing blog. You can also learn more about her in the following interviews: TygerburgerCapeTalk, and TimesLive.

She publishes with Harlequin Romance, Carina Press, and Kensington, and is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary.

Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

Life is What You Make it

Today we welcome Harlequin Special Edition author Nina Crespo to our Origin Stories feature.

Visit Nina’s Harlequin page to see all her books!

Life is what you make it—write your own story.

I was recently asked in an interview, “What would be the first song on the soundtrack to your life?” My answer, “La Vida es un Carnival” (Life is a Carnival) by Celia Cruz.

I can truly relate to the song, especially this part (translation from Spanish to English):

All those who believe life is unfair, needs to know that’s not the case. That life is beautiful, we have to live it! Anyone that thinks they are alone and that it’s unfulfilling, needs to know that’s not the case. That in life, no one is alone; there’s always someone!

https://lyricstranslate.com

Those lyrics are even more relevant to me now that I’m packing my life into boxes. Again. I’ve made over a dozen major moves in my adult life—from the southwest to the northeast to attend college, military PCS (permanent change of station) moves to installations in the States and overseas, a few cross-state transfers causing us to live in two homes to accommodate my and my husband’s careers, and cross-town relocations to new homes. Moving is as familiar to me as breathing. Sometimes, it’s been stressful, overwhelming, or even sad. But like the lyrics of the song, it’s also been beautiful. I’ve discovered new places and created spaces that felt like home and made new friends. Each experience is like starting the first chapter in a book.

My love of reading comes from my mother who was also a military spouse. She viewed every move as wonderful adventure (I’d post a picture of her, but all of my photo albums are packed away, and I don’t have any good ones of her on my phone). She was a teacher who chose to become a stay-at-home mom. Some of my earliest memories are of her engrossed in the local newspaper, Ebony magazine, a book, or an encyclopedia, reading about places around the world. She also read me bedtime stories, but as soon as I was able, she had me read my books aloud to her. Cinderella, The Tortoise and The Hare, Little Red Riding Hood, and Stone Soup—I not only learned to love words but also the escape a book could provide.

Eventually, I graduated to Nancy Drew Mysteries, but things completely changed for me while putting away my older sister’s laundry a.k.a snooping through her bedroom. She had a couple of Harlequin romance novels in her dresser drawer. I “borrowed” one and read it. From there, I was hooked. Enemies to lovers, marriages of convenience, love against the odds, as well as unforgettable adventures, loyal friends, and family saga dramas, all in places I’d yet to visit. Romance books were one of the things that inspired me to leave home and travel.

Very important box!

Back then, I certainly didn’t envision moving over a dozen times. I also never imagined I would pack a box of Harlequin romance novels with my name on them. But Mom and Celia Cruz are right—moving is an adventure, life is beautiful, and as my husband and I move into our new place, I’m looking forward to starting another chapter in our lives and writing my next book.

***

Nina Crespo lives in Florida where she indulges in her favorite passions — the beach, a good glass of wine, date night with her own real-life hero and dancing.

Her lifelong addiction to romance began in her teens while on a “borrowing spree” in her older sister’s bedroom where she discovered her first romance novel.

Nina’s sensual contemporary stories and steamy paranormal tales satisfy a reader’s craving for love, romance, and happily ever after. Her work has been published by Harlequin, Pocket Books, Kensington, and Entangled Publishing.

Stay connected with Nina on InstagramFacebookTwitter or through her newsletter.

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.