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

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

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.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

All Travelers, Together

A small taste of Jamaica: Bamboo Avenue, St. Elizabeth

I’d like to tell you an immigrant story—not my own, which is pretty banal, but a far more interesting one.

My husband’s grand-uncle left Jamaica, bound for Britain, to sign up with the RAF in 1942. He served as a morse code operator, and also flew in reconnaissance missions during the war. Wanting to study medicine, he applied for and was accepted to Glasgow University, but the RAF refused to de-mob him, and by the time he was released from duty he’d lost his place.

Moving to Glasgow anyway, he met his eventual wife—a white Scotswoman—but faced the disapproval of both her parents and even the pastor of the church they started attending together.

After they married, and were looking at properties to purchase, he would see a listing for a house he thought might be suitable, and go to look at it. Over and over, when he went to look at the houses, he was told they suddenly were no longer for sale. His estate agent finally told him not to go, but to send his wife instead, and that was how they eventually managed to purchase a home.

While he still intended to study medicine, he had to work to support his family and save up to be able to go back to school. When a minister told him there was a dearth of Religious Education teachers, and there were grants available for that course of study, he decided to become a teacher instead.

Graduating as a mature student, he started his successful teaching career, eventually becoming the first black headteacher in Scotland.

I share Mr. Carl Vaughan’s story, not just because it is one of success against the odds, and in the face of intense opposition, but as a way to say, there are as many immigrant stories as there are immigrants.

Some leave their homeland in search of a better life, new horizons, or advancements unavailable in their home country. Others, like Mr. Vaughan and later the Windrush Generation, seek to serve. In 1796, Jamaican Maroons were deported to Nova Scotia, Canada, as part of a treaty with the British. They didn’t stay long, and were relocated to Sierra Leone thereafter. Men and women from Jamaica helped build the Panama Canal.

We Yaardies (Jamaicans) are pretty much everywhere! My ex-mother-in-law even tells the story of being on Malta and finding a Jamaican waiter in the Chinese restaurant where they stopped to have lunch.

My story is far more prosaic than any of the above.

I guess you could call me a double immigrant, really. Just over seventeen years ago, I left Jamaica and traveled to Canada and then, four years ago, I took a leap of faith and moved to Florida.

Neither move was easy. Both had to be carefully considered. But, in both cases, I think the right decision was made, considering the particular time of my life.

Thankfully, I was old enough, and had travelled enough, to know there was no ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ awaiting me in North America. I’d find no streets paved with gold. Instead, I expected that hard work and a willingness to fit in—without losing my innate Jamaican character—would carry me through.

Yet, even so braced and determined, there was no way to anticipate the myriad little ways that being an ‘outsider’ would hinder, annoy, and on occasion anger me.

But remember what I said in my last piece about if ‘yuh want good, yuh nose haffi run‘ (success often comes at a painful price, which has to be paid)? Well, here’s another Jamaicanism for you—When trouble tek yuh, pickney shut fit yuh (When trouble takes you, a child’s shirt will fit you; meaning, if things are hard, you make do with whatever you have to get through it.)

And that’s what I did.

But I did it with the conscious decision not to change the way I spoke, or to lose sight of my roots. Sometimes I think I’m even more in tune with my Jamaican origins since I left the island. There’s something about being far from home, living in places where hardly anyone understands the way I grew up, my idioms, or outlook, that has somehow solidified my very Jamaican-ness.

It’s a lonely feeling, leaving your country. Being apart from the places and people that helped shape and mold you, and supported you through your life. Physical distance from the familiar also sometimes leads to emotional distance from friends and family too.

Jamaicans might say, Yuh gone too far from yuh navel-string (You’ve gone too far away from your umbilical cord,) harking back to the tradition of burying a baby’s umbilical cord and planting a tree with it, signifying a connection to the land that can never be severed. No matter who you have around you, the separation from the place of your heart changes you—sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

Because I didn’t know or understand some of the things happening around me, I became more cautious. When people laughed at me for my ignorance of things they took for granted because they grew up with them, I learned to hold my temper. Being unable to get a job in my field, and take whatever I could get, made me humble. Having people assume things about me once they heard my accent made me stronger—and I figured out how to get my own back with a smile.

Of everything I’ve been up until this point in life, I can’t help thinking that being an immigrant has had one of the biggest impacts on my life.

It permeates every facet of who I am now, and I see things through its filter.

When I write, it’s almost always about people searching for belonging; for home. It can be emotional home, or a sense of family, or just someone who wants to learn about them and, in understanding, love them unconditionally.

This is a direct result of feeling adrift, different, misunderstood, underestimated. Of sometimes feeling inadequate, often homesick, and imbued with a heart-and-soul deep yearning for times gone, or friends missed.

I’ve learned to use all these feelings and emotions when I write, seasoning my books not just with Jamaican spice, but also the salt left by tears of separation and longing.

And this journey hasn’t been all bad—not at all! I’ve made great friends along the way, who appreciate my alternate views, or ‘outsider’ insights. My family of the heart has grown, and enriched me with their acceptance and love.

There are days when I think I’d like to be able to live in even more places, just for the wonderful experience of broadening my understanding of the world even more.

The life of an immigrant isn’t for the faint of heart, but there are rewards—both tangible and intangible—both for those who move to new places, and those already there.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

Looking Back to Craft the Future

Family of Ernest and Alice Delvaille. From left: Lawrence, Alice, Halford, Ruby, Gerald, Ernest, Leslie, and Edna.

This rather Victorian-looking pair are my paternal great-grandparents, and the serious and dapper young man seated at the left is my grandfather. I had a very special relationship with my Grandpa, who came to live with us the year I was born, after Granny—his wife—died. He was the first person I remember reading to me every day, and through those early interactions I developed both my insatiable reading habit, and the curiosity that’s a huge part of my character.

Judging by the ages of the children, I estimate this picture was taken circa 1907. My great-grandfather Ernest, an accountant, and Great-grandma Alice, Post Mistress for the district, married in 1888. Nothing unusual at all, right?

Although the picture was taken in the hills of St. Elizabeth parish, in Jamaica, from the clothing it could have been taken almost anywhere in the world European folk lived.

Yet, here’s something to consider:

The family in this picture is, at most, one generation removed from being slaves.

Ernest’s grandmother, Mary Gittoes, was a slave. His mother, Maria Miles Tomlinson, was born prior to Emancipation, and prior to her parents’ 1836 marriage, so conceivably was born into slavery too.

This isn’t something spoken about much, in families like mine. Older generations were determined to attain “respectability” and distance themselves from those types of roots. They were more focused on the European side of their lineage, ignoring all traces of any other. For as long as I could remember, my father swore his surname was French, his ancestors Huguenots fleeing persecution, and refused to entertain the suggestion that it was actually Jewish.

Even in a country with the motto “Out of Many, One People,” where many, if not most people are of mixed heritage, the vestiges of prejudice still lingered.

This is a legacy I had to break free of, and that shapes much of my outlook on the world. I have a very difficult time with racism, and colorism, and caste/class/social prejudice, because I’m not only a genetic melting pot myself, but the descendant of both enslaved Africans and European slave owners. Descendant of Low Country Jews, and Eastern European Jews, with a sprinkling of other genes to boot.

For me, that diverse blood is a source of great pride.

I was also privileged to grow up at a time when my country was learning how to throw off the bonds of colonialism, even as many of its citizens were mourning the loss of the “motherland’s” rule. While others might disagree, I think of myself as lucky to have experienced those turbulent times, when Jamaica was trying to find herself; trying to figure out who and what she was. There was a concerted push toward equality for all, and I like to think I learned the lessons of the time.

Everyone is worthy—of life, education, opportunity, and advancement.

Worthy of love.

When I started writing romance, there was room for werewolves and vampires, aliens and shape-shifters, even ghosts, but seemingly little for people like me, or my family. Yet, through travelling, I learned that while my appearance, experiences, and background may differ from those of the people I met, there were definite similarities too. Cultures, settings, professions, and appearances may be diverse, but the problems, joys, loves, dislikes, the pain and losses we experience make us more alike than different.

We’re all individuals, with our discrete backgrounds, hang-up, and desires, but there is always something we can share, and understand.

The commonality of humanity.

But, in the beginning, I wrote what the market seemed able to accept because, above all else, I wanted to be published and was trying to be realistic. After a while, I found solace in writing paranormal and fantasy romances, because I could people them with anyone I liked. I also found that readers of M/M romances were more accepting of diversity in race and culture, and had some small success writing those too.

I didn’t think there would be a place for me in mainstream publishing if I wrote the characters I wanted to. That was a painful realization, but in Jamaica there’s a saying: ‘If yuh want good, yuh nose haffi run’ (basically, if you want to succeed, you have to deal with any attendant pain) and I yearned for success. The type of success where family members, on hearing I had a contract for publication from an e-publisher, wouldn’t say, “Oh, soon you’ll be a real author!”

Honestly, when I heard that Harlequin was looking for diversity in their Medical line, I wasn’t sure if they meant it or not, but decided to try my hand at it anyway. I wanted the chance to write a variety of characters, using my own background, experiences, and observations when crafting some of them. If I could also get a chance to put a little of my own roots into some of the stories, using culture and place to add interest, I wanted in!

I was ecstatic when they accepted my first story, The Nurse’s Pregnancy Miracle. It featured a Jamaican, immigrant heroine—successful and headstrong—living life on her own terms, despite the pressures her family put on her. She’s based on women I know, and love. Strong, determined women, who’ve succeeded beyond, or in spite of, their roots and the expectations of others.

I carry the memories of my early life, and the lessons learned, to this day. They guide me in various ways, reminding me to remain open-minded, curious, and attentive to others. But just as what seems important when we’re fifteen seems inconsequential when we’re thirty, about twenty years ago I underwent a life change that shifted my perceptions again.

But that is a tale for another day.

Another facet of my Origin Story.