I should have added a cowboy! My failed career as a romance author

A long time ago, shortly after finishing school, I decided to write a book.

My plan was simple:

    1. compose a steamy romance novel – one that everyone would love
    2. sell it
    3. get paid enough money to buy a laptop and move somewhere hot where I would crank out a novel every few months and enjoy life.

This ‘plan’ was not based on a love of romance literature but I was young and overly optimistic with a crappy job and no real career plan. Although I’d never written anything longer than a short story before, I thought: How hard can it be? 

My sister’s friend, an intern at Harlequin, gave me a pile of books for inspiration along with this piece of advice: “Cowboys and babies are very hot right now. Put them in your book if you can.”

Chircosta / Foter / Public domain

I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about cowboys and frankly, saddle-crushed testicles and rope play kind of turn me off. So, despite my enormous confidence about this project, I knew I could not write a cowboy with authenticity or enthusiasm. I just couldn’t add a cowboy.

Despite their apparent popularity in romance novels, anyone who has ever met a baby knows they are vicious passion killers. I didn’t have much experience with babies but I had been one and had looked after a few so I felt knowledgeable enough to add a baby to my story. I wrote ‘BABY’ on a piece of paper.

It was a start.

I read my way through my stack of romance books and noticed a few common elements that seemed to be mandatory:

1. The first time the man is truly attracted to the woman she is almost always either:

a: in disguise

b: in peril

c: unconscious or otherwise debilitated

As a feminist, almost everything about this romance ‘element’ offended me.

As a pragmatist who wanted a laptop and a sunny life, I let it go.

I tripped Lauren (my leading lady and recently divorced mother of a very cute baby who has just moved home to the family farm) over her dog. (I was certain that if readers like babies, they would love a cute Golden Retriever!) Drew, the handsome next door neighbour/vineyard owner (Lauren’s former childhood crush who’d barely even noticed she was alive when they were kids) caught her just in time in his strong, tanned arms (hero’s arms are always strong and tanned) so she was okay if a bit flustered by his manliness.

2. The man has an interesting, high-profile or heroic job.

My former-boy-next-door-turned-hot-beast-next-door converted his family farm to a vineyard and was committed to ‘making top notch wine at reasonable prices’. Interesting, useful AND heroic. Check, check and check!

3. The mother of the romantic protagonist is almost always dead.

Why does the mother have to die?  I don’t know but she does. With few exceptions, most romantic heroines are motherless women with fathers of varying degrees of uselessness.

Although I was fascinated by the mystery of the dead and missing mothers, I didn’t dwell on it.

I dispatched the mother, and the grandmother too (because, if killing the mother is good, I assumed that doubling down with a dead grandmother was even better).

One benefit of the carnage was that it provided a reason for Lauren (and her very cute baby!) to come back to the old farmhouse when she inherited it from her grandmother – rest her soul – who had been her refuge from her annoying step-mother and weak father after her mother’s untimely demise.

4. The love birds come dangerously close to being driven apart by mistrust and misunderstanding. Always. Usually because they don’t ask questions and just leap to conclusions.

I’d watched television my whole life and was very familiar with the concept.

Was Drew only interested in Lauren’s land? She assumed the worst when she learned of his plans to expand the vineyard. Of course she didn’t ask him – that would be crazy and would screw up the word count!

With those ‘must have’ components, I had my outline.

I’d planned to complete my first draft in a month but it was much tougher and slower than expected. I eventually finished a first draft after about four months and immediately went to work trying to get published.

I hadn’t worried that publishers might not want my book. But when I started sending out queries, I quickly learned that they didn’t even want to see it!

Turned down by five publishers, it became clear that life as a famous author on the beach might not happen (and that I should have added a cowboy!!!) but I was glad I wrote it because I had proved to myself that I could.

In the end, my romance novel was read only by me and a handful of friends (one of them cried which made me unbelievably happy) and eventually packed away, in a binder, on a shelf in a cupboard with old photo albums and games with missing pieces.

I came across it the other day while trying to find the pink Hungry Hippo face. I flipped through the pages and remembered my ‘plan’ and it made me smile.