By Erin Nappe (Billiard)
Since February is the month for lovers, we here at Toasted Cheese decided that it would be a good time to explore that much-maligned but ever popular genre—Romance.
I recently had the chance to talk with Edie Hanes (a.k.a. Lauren Nichols), a writer from the rural Pennsylvania town of St. Marys who has successfully published several novels for Silhouette books.
Her success was anything but instant. After first deciding to try writing in 1980, Edie worked for years at improving her craft before having her first novel, Accidental Heiress, published in 1998. In the following interview, she tells us about her journey and offers some advice for any budding romance writers among us.
Toasted Cheese: I know that there are a number of different lines published under the Harlequin umbrella. Which line are you published in?
Edie Hanes: I write for Silhouette Intimate Moments, which allows me to incorporate mystery and suspense subplots into my romances.
TC: How many novels have you published?
EH: I’ve published four, sold five. Accidental Heiress and Accidental Hero in 1998, Accidental Father in 2000, and Bachelor in Blue Jeans in July 2002, which received 4½ stars and a Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Club. My latest, RUN TO ME has just been turned in, and isn’t yet scheduled.
TC: How long have you been writing? How did you get your start?
EH: I’ve been writing since 1980, and it was only by accident that I began. Though I’d always enjoyed writing in high school, I never actually considered it as a vocation because I grew up at a time when women became wives, mothers, salesclerks, nurses and secretaries. Besides, I’d always thought that if I had any talent at all, it was in the art field. So when my 33rd birthday rolled around and I was feeling low about being all things to all people except myself, my husband asked what I’d like to do for me. I told him I thought I’d like to illustrate children’s books. He told me to just do it.
To make a long story a little shorter, when I finally found a publisher who would look at my work if I also wrote an accompanying story, I had such a good time with the writing, I did an immediate about-face. What a wonderful surprise that was! I wrote Arthur the Claustrophobic Ant, illustrated it, and put it in a drawer. (It was cute, but the reading level was all wrong for the age group I’d been targeting.) Then I scooted off to a bookstore and bought a category romance by Janet Dailey, who was getting a lot of attention back then. It was a quick, simple read, and I was sure that if she could do it, I could, too. Wow, was I in for a disappointment. After a few false starts, in 1981, I wrote what I considered to be the most marvelous romance ever and sent it off to Harlequin Enterprises in Toronto. They sent it back—but only after it had been sent to London, back to Toronto and then to the states, and been seen by several editors who had some good things to say. They eventually passed, but requested that I send them my next book—but I was so green to the publishing world, I thought they were being ‘nice.’ I didn’t try my hand at novel writing again for a long time.
TC: Did you take any courses or attend any workshops?
EH: Yes. When I’d sufficiently healed after that first rejection, I looked at the helpful comments that editors had written and decided I needed to find out what they meant. Every one of them said my biggest problems were not enough action, and poor pacing, so I eventually took a short story writing course from Writers Digest Books. That taught me to simply tell the story. Before that, I was filling pages with introspection, narrative and descriptions that dazzled the heck out of me, but left editors asking, “So…what happened to the story you were telling?” After that, I took a few writing courses that were offered locally. My big break came when I went to a workshop given by published novelist Susan Anderson (aka Lindsay Randall), and was invited to join the fledgling group that eventually became Pennwriters, Inc. There were three published romance authors in our little group of about twenty—Nancy Martin, Victoria Thompson, and Susan Anderson—and they were all eager to help the wannabes. To their credit, many of us went on to publish.
TC: When (and where) were you first published?
EH: My first publishing credit was an article for a real estate company’s newsletter. I got $20 for it!
TC: What interested you in romance writing? How did you “break in” to the field?
EH: I guess I chose romance because family values and relationships were all I really knew about. (I’m a high school graduate—no college degree.) I broke into the field when my first short romance was accepted by Woman’s World in 1990, but my second big break was hooking up with my current critique partner, multi-published Silhouette author Karen Rose Smith who took on the tedious business of shaping me into a novelist. Without her guidance…well, I wouldn’t be doing this interview, that’s for sure!
TC: Is there a “formula” for writing romance novels?
EH: Sure. I know it’s not popular to call romances formula fiction, but the truth is, readers of romances have certain expectations. There must be an attraction from the get-go between the hero and heroine, followed by a conflict that keeps them from being together, and ending with a satisfying solution to the conflict and the happily-ever-after that keeps bringing readers back. That’s why the subplots, exterior conflicts and neat little sidelines that run concurrently with this tried-and-true formula are so important. It’s very difficult to keep coming up with fresh ideas, but with so many category and single title romances released every month, we have to try—or turn our spots over to someone who’s up to the challenge. Sometimes a fabulous setting or a quirky secondary character can add some color and juice to a story—providing that character doesn’t run away with the book!
TC: What about the dreaded “sex scenes”? How do you avoid clichés and “purple prose” when writing them?
EH: The cliché part is easy. If you’ve read enough romances, you know which plot devices are used time and again, and you try like blazes to avoid them. If your plot set up has you backed into a corner and the only thing that seems reasonable to you is the Love Scene in the Snowbound Cabin, you have to put on your thinking cap and find a way to make it unique.
The purple prose part can be easy, too—though I guess it would be up to unbiased readers to judge whether I’ve been successful or not. When I’ve finished writing a love scene, I read it and try to pretend it was written by someone else. If it makes me want to gag, I know I have some serious work to do! Also, I try to read my work after some time has passed—a week usually works. It’s easier to see the flaws, overwriting and excess adverbs and adjectives.
TC: What advice would you give to writers interested in writing romance?
EH: Gee, talk about clichés. This is the biggest cliché in the advice department: Read. Read many, many books in your chosen genre. It’s a good way to find out what kind of romance you’d like to write. It doesn’t hurt to read other genres either, because there are lessons to be learned from every kind of fiction—pacing, setting up and sustaining tension, tricks of the suspense and mystery trade… the list goes on. Once you’ve decided what line you’d like to target, be sure to read current works, not books that an editor purchased six years ago like the dime-a-bag deal we’ve all bought at yard sales. (And even those books are helpful.) FYI, most times there are 12-24 months between acceptance and publication, sometimes longer.
TC: Tell us a little bit about your current project.
EH: RUN TO ME (which will almost certainly have a different title when it goes to print) is the story of an abused woman running from her powerful ex-husband, a Chicago financial tycoon who wants Erin dead, and has sufficient funds to get the job done. He’s hired a hit man to kill her, then bring back his three year old daughter whom he plans to take out of the USA to a country without an extradition treaty with the US. There, he will raise Christie to be an agreeable, obedient young lady—not the duplicitous liar her mother had been. It’s the only way he can keep his child—his possession. He’s been judged unfit, and Erin has sole custody.
Frightened for her daughter, Erin flees Chicago, bouncing from state to small town, finally making her way from Maine to the Flagstaff, AZ area where she changes her name and takes a temporary caregiver job on a small ranch owned by Amos Perkins, a recovering stroke patient. It’s there that she meets his grandson, Mac Corbett, a man with emotional baggage of his own. Though Erin falls in love with him, she knows there’s no happily-ever-after with Mac. Charles will never stop looking for her and Christie, and simply associating with Amos and Mac puts them at risk. Erin fears that one young woman who befriended her has already paid with her life.
This was a lot of fun to write because I got to use the villain’s point-of-view a few times— keeps the tension high, and wakes the reader up a little when things are going too well between the hero and heroine. Also, the Flagstaff area—particularly the Sinagua cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon—turned out to be a neat setting. Well, to me, anyhow. The next book will be set there, too, in the same fictional town of High Hawk.
TC: That sounds great! We’ll be looking forward to it. Could you leave us with something to inspire all those beginning writers out there?
EH: Remember that editors don’t have to be nice—they’re too busy. So if you receive a personal reply from an editor who’s rejected your current manuscript, but has invited you to send her your next effort, do it. She wasn’t trying to let you down easy. She saw talent!