Helping each other, romance writers coax their labors to happy endings ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

February 01, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Under a congratulatory banner last month, 25 members of the Maryland Romance Writers raised glasses of sparkling apple juice to toast Mary Anne Frounfelker, who was still recovering from the shock of it all.

She had just sold two manuscripts to Meteor Kismet Romances, making her the ninth of the club's 58 members to be published.

"I couldn't have done it without you guys," said Ms. Frounfelker, 43, who wrote for seven years before selling a manuscript. "Sometimes it felt forever."

She plugged away at her books with the encouragement of the organization, which meets every month in Ellicott City at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library.

"This group helps," said Ms. Frounfelker, an Abingdon resident who joined in 1991. "The people are great and the little bits of knowledge help."

The group is part of Romance Writers of America, a nonprofit, international organization of about 5,600 independent writers.

Members gather to discuss various topics: characterization, dialogue, trends in the romance market, and adding emotion to their work.

Between meetings, they gather to critique each other's work. They also receive a monthly newsletter called Kiss and Tell and a bimonthly newsmagazine, have opportunities to meet fellow writers, editors and agents, and participate in a yearly writing contest and conference.

"I've always been a closet writer," said Tricia Ramsey of Ellicott City, who joined in October. She said she hopes the group will inspire her to complete a romance novel describing how she and her husband met two years ago.

"I fell head over heels in love with him," said Ms. Ramsey, who asked him to marry her after three weeks of dating. She said the group is "really going to inspire me to get out. It's such a neat love story."

Happy endings and committed relationships are what distinguish romance novels from other genres, writers said.

Ms. Frounfelker's first book, written under the pen name Mara Fitzcharles, is titled "McLaren's Memory." Its protagonist recovers from amnesia to marry the woman of his dreams.

"I think romance novels are marvelous," said Floyd Blankenship, a Towson writer who writes books with his wife, Myra. "They're basically good. They're not depressing, they don't make you feel bad," he said.

"You will have a satisfying happy ending," said Binnie Syril Braunstein, a Pikesville resident who has published "Baby Love," "Out of the Darkness" and "The Color of Love." "You may go through hell for 600 pages, but you have a happy ending."

She said the 10-year-old group offers great learning opportunities.

"When I started, no one was published," recalled Ms. Braunstein, who has since published three romance novels and 40 short stories. "We just try to broaden our experiences. We try to give ourselves a forum."

After the recent meeting's celebratory toast, members got down to business.

Ms. Braunstein gave a pep talk, encouraging members to enter writing contests.

Chapter officials said aspiring writers should enter contests to hone their skills, learn how to work under deadline pressure, and gain the attention of agents and publishers.

"It's not a guarantee of publication, but it's a good way to gain the notice of agents, publishers, and ultimately readers," said chapter adviser Shannon E. Katona.

Besides cash prizes, competitions give writers intangible awards, she said.

"It makes you feel good," said Ms. Katona, who won first place in a regional romance writing contest. "It validates what you're doing.

"All of us have books inside of us," she said.

Members also learned how to assemble a winning press kit.

"Remember, your press kit is representative of yourself," said publicity chairwoman Jo Anne Dreyfus, as she held aloft bookmarks, glossy 8-by-10 pictures, resumes and business cards.

Members, who range in age from their early 20s to theie 70s, come from all over the Baltimore metropolitan area. Many hold day jobs and pursue their writing on the side.

Ms. Katona, for example, sells jewelry for the Albert S. Smyth Company. Ms. Frounfelker writes a travel column for a Harford County magazine. Another is a professor emeritus of chemistry at Towson State University whose wife is a forensic chemist for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Many said they enjoy the group because it gives them contact with other writers.

"You always need to be with people who are writers," said Louise Titchener, a former Howard County resident who has published 36 books. "Writers understand each other in a way that others don't," she said.

"It's an interesting group to talk to and they've got lots of interesting ideas," said Mr. Blankenship, who with his wife is working on a romance and two science-fiction novels.

"I'm the rough drafter," Mr. Blankenship said of his role in the pair's writing. "One of us has an idea. We kind of push and shove until it takes form."

And Myra Blankenship said of her role, "I do the polishing and give the woman's point of view."

Writing is another spark to their 38-year marriage. "We can get into some of the wildest conversations at 1 o'clock in the morning," Ms. Blankenship said.

Donna MacDonald of Columbia said the group has given her writing career a renewed focus.

"Without the group, I was just submitting [manuscripts] here and there," Ms. MacDonald said. "Through this group I was able to join a critique group and get an agent.

She said she also benefits from the group's collective experience.

"From the group you get moral support and advice of all types, from how to contact an agent to how to submit your material -- little things they learned from experience."

Individuals must belong to both the local chapter and national organization. Annual membership dues are $17.50 for the Maryland Romance Writers, and $45 plus a $10 initial fee for Romance Writers of America.

For more information, call Ms. Katona at 254-3946.

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