If it weren’t for having a real life mentor, I probably would never have become a writer, at least not one published in romance fiction. All my life I loved to write, from the minute they put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to spell a few words. In first grade I was always the last to hand in the “creative writing” assignments, not because I was slow at it but because I had so much to say. My stories were usually romantic adventures (yeah, even then!) about princesses and knights and magical forests.
But as I grew up, the term “romance novel” took on connotations that steered me clear of the genre, or so I thought, because a lot of what I was reading contained strong romantic themes. They just weren’t officially categorized as romance novels.
In college, too many years ago to count, one of my English professors prophetically asked me if I had ever considered writing romance. I don’t know why she asked, but I suppose she saw something particular in my writing style. At the time I’d only read a couple of romance novels, not very good ones, so I laughed and said, “Why would I write romance? I don’t read that stuff.” Oh dear, how I shudder now at my post-adolescent highbrow academic snobbery. What did I know? Obviously not much. When I graduated that same professor gave me a gift: Roget’s International Thesaurus, 4th Edition. This is one that offers not a few choices for each word, but sometimes hundreds, with nuances upon nuances of meaning so you can select exactly the right sentiment. It’s fabulous. I always say I could never write a book without it, and in fact I haven’t. Dr. Frank, you knew me better than I knew myself, and I have so much to thank you for!
But it was a few years later, when a friend published her first romance novel for Harlequin, that something just clicked with me. I excitedly bought and read the book – my friend was a published author! By the way, it was Date With An Outlaw by Lyn Lockhart, a pseudonym for my friend, Marilyn Jordan, who went on to publish for Dorchester and Kensington.
In reading her book, I instantly came to understand that romance was not defined by those so-so ones I’d read back in the 80s. Romance was so much more. It was mystery and adventure and danger and humor and everything imaginable that can happen in life, with a guaranteed happy ending. Wow! A passion was born. I started writing. And writing and writing. It was a historical, of course, set in the Middle Ages. I had no idea what I was doing and that book probably would have gone nowhere but under the bed, which might have been the end of the story if Marilyn hadn’t dragged me, pretty much kicking and screaming, to her critique group meetings and to the Florida Romance Writers. She literally introduced me to everything I needed to know about the writing industry, encouraged me to attend my first conference, helped me prepare for my first editor appointment, and gave me the kick I needed to prevent me from becoming one of those isolated, closet writers who tremble at the thought of letting anyone see their work. It isn’t overstating it to say her influence was life-changing for me.
Mentors can be accidental, as in the case of my English professor, or intentional, as in the case of my friend. The trick is to always keep an open mind and an open heart and have the courage – even if you’re scared silly – to reach for your dreams. Especially if someone has just shoved you face first into them.