Brought To You By the Letter J

There was never any question that I love books. Some of my earliest memories are Mom reading me fairy tales, me attempting to “read” to my baby sister, and the magical day I discovered the school library in kindergarten.

And there wasn’t much question that I was a writer. Mom’s nickname for me was Ink-Spot. My hands and clothes were perpetually stained from the hours I spent scribbling in journals and spiral notebooks with cheap ballpoint pens. Before I could write, I did my storytelling through Barbie dolls. You would not believe the plot twists that went down at the Dream House. In school, I was known for writing. If there was a geography lesson, I failed. If there was a math test, I cried under my desk. But if there was an essay? I lost count of the times a proud teacher would read one of my paragraphs—or an entire paper—to the class. I knew in my bones I was a writer, I just wasn’t sure what to do with it (except, obviously, pen hundreds of tragically bad poems in my teenage years.)

Then, at a middle school slumber party, someone handed me a Jude Deveraux historical romance, one of the books from the Velvet series. That was the beginning.

Sexy men meeting their matches in smart, sassy women. Ballrooms! Pirate ships! The Scottish Highlands! I can’t tell you how many Jude Deveraux and Johanna Lindsey books I read after bedtime by flashlight. In high school, a friend added to my reading list Julie Garwood, who always made me laugh, and Judith McNaught, who always made me cry. After sobbing my way to the end of another McNaught historical, I knew that Jude, Johanna, Julie and Judith had led me to my destiny. I was going to be a romance writer. (I even saved up my babysitting money and bought a book called How To Write A Romance and Get it Published.) My mother suggested that, inevitable fame and fortune aside, I still go to college. Which I did, focusing on history. To assist with all my romance novel research.

After graduation and getting married, I joined Romance Writers of America and learned a lot about the business side of publishing. Still, I couldn’t sell any of my historical romances. What was I doing wrong? Did my writing suck? Were my London Regencies not original enough? Was it because my name didn’t start with J?! I was fortunate enough to final in several unpublished contests and get my work in front of judging editors, but I never won. I came close in 2000, when an editor placed me second and left the margin note “strong writing, but not a historical voice.”

HOW COULD I NOT HAVE A HISTORICAL VOICE? I’d been mainlining historicals for years and had been fantasizing about my historical romance career since I was sixteen. (I love historical romances to this day, btw, and am currently reading books by both James, Eloisa and Jenkins, Beverly.) But after several years of being told no, I began to wonder. Trying desperately to find a place for myself in the market, I began reading many different subgenres. I read some good books, but nothing really cut through my frustration and confusion. Until.

Jennifer Crusie. (Fine, I have a thing for Js. Just ask my husband. Jarrad.)

Sidenote that isn’t as random as it seems: I remember being delighted while watching the Season 4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale “Restless,” written by Joss Whedon. The whole episode is bizarre dream sequences, and I literally told my husband, “This is what it’s like inside my head!” (To which he replied, “You frighten me.”)

The first time I read a contemporary romance by Jennifer Crusie, I had that same feeling of joyous identification. Beyond her storylines or sexy banter, there was something in the rhythm and cadence of her words that spoke to me, that felt like the more sophisticated version of how my brain works, or at least aspires to work. After falling madly in love with her books, I was no longer too stubborn or too scared to try something new. Instead, I was inspired.

My first book, a contemporary romantic comedy, was released in 2003, and I’ve now published/sold almost fifty books and novellas.

I found my voice and achieved my dream through a lot of trial and error–but it was other authors’ voices that inspired me in the first place and motivated me to keep trying. Thank you Jude, Johanna, Julie, Judith, Joss, and Jenny.

(Author’s note: Obviously I don’t only read books by people with J names—my love for Kresley Cole is well documented—but I must say, Jeanette Grey continues the glorious tradition of J-awesomeness. Don’t miss her upcoming contemporary romance Eight Ways to Ecstasy.)

Me with Jude Deveraux, New York City, 2015:

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