Getting published an open book for Maryland Romance Writers

  • Once a month, the Arbutus Library is the site for a meeting of the Maryland Romance Writers. From left, Stephanie Draven, of Owings Mills, Christi Barth, of Baltimore, Joya Fields, of Catonsville, and Rebecca York, of Columbia, are among the members who have had their novels published.
Once a month, the Arbutus Library is the site for a meeting of… (Staff photo by Ed Bunyan )
January 03, 2013|By Mary K. Tilghman

Every day, they sit alone in their offices, writing about love, passion, romance.

They bring to life muscled heroes, dangerous vixens, strong heroines — lovers all — then put enormous obstacles in the way of the would-be lovers so they must struggle for that happily-ever-after.

The members of the Maryland Romance Writers meet once a month at the Arbutus Library to discuss the craft and business of writing the most popular genre of fiction in America. Their books are among the more than $1.3 billion worth of romance novels sold in a year.

They are serious-minded writers who know how to tug at the heart strings, force a tear or two, get the pulse racing.

With its 81 members spread across the state, the library is a convenient meeting place, as is Chef Paolino's restaurant on Frederick Road in Catonsville for their catching-up dinners before the meeting.

The library's central location near the Baltimore Beltway and Interstate-95 makes it suitable for picking up speakers for their meetings and workshops.

"And they're very nice to us," said Joya Fields, of Catonsville.

The MRW is one of a number of groups that rent space in the library, said librarian Kim Preis. "They seem like they genuinely have a lot of fun," she added. At the suggestion of fellow librarian Ann McElroy the group has agreed to speak about romance novels at the library in May.

The group met in Linthicum until about two years ago when space limitations forced them to look for a new location, said Lea Nolan, another member of the group who just published her first book.

With an atmosphere that can be celebratory and maybe even risque, the meetings serve to connect writers, help them get their start and offer support. And it's done with chocolate.

Rebecca York, of Columbia, has published 140 books — with titles in 22 languages. She been coming to these meetings for more than 20 years. "It's a good group of productive writers," she said.

She heaped praise on the meeting's programs that can range from ghosts to psychics and offer a little insight on the many paranormal romances she likes to write.

Like York, about half of the group's members are already published, some with several novels, some with best-selling titles.

About half are "pre-published," in the process of seeing their prose go out into the reading world for the first time, according to Laura Kaye, the group's vice president and the author of New York Times and USA Today bestsellers.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, Kaye said. "It's helpful and encouraging to know other people get what you're going through," she said.

"At my first meeting of the MRW, I was stunned at the professionalism of the women," said Stephanie Draven, of Owings Mills. "I have never encountered a savvier group of ladies."

These writers are not producing the "bodice-rippers" of past generations. At least, the majority aren't. Romance today can involve vampires, ghosts or gods. It can take on subjects as serious as the environment or even a political campaign — as one of Draven's new books has this year. They can be filled with suspense or adventure. Some are humorous while others get dark.

"Now, there is truly something for every flavor," Fields said.

Some have explicit love scenes while others are more circumspect. "There's the close-the-door theory and an open-the-door theory," Fields said.

In one way, romance novels are all the same: "In romance, a happy ending is essential to the genre," York said.

Such endings have some basic components.

"The bad guy's going to get caught and the couple is going to get together," Fields said.

The recent crop of best-sellers, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, has brought new attention to the genre.

"It certainly helped my sales," Draven said.

The attention has broadened the audience.

"It pulls in new readers," said Christi Barth, a Baltimore resident who is the group's president for 2013. "It's rejuvenated their interest in reading."

And some books have inspired new writers, including Nolan, an Arnold resident, and her friend, Laura Kaye.

Kaye and Nolan began writing after they were inspired by the "Twilight" series.

"If Stephenie Meyer (the author) can do this, I can do this," Nolan remembers thinking.

Nolan explained she didn't want to write just any romance. It would have to be young adult romance, like the "Twilight" books, a genre that has developed since her own teen years. "I missed that whole genre because it didn't exist," she said.

"We didn't exactly know what we were doing," Kaye said.

Without knowing a soul, she went to her first meeting of the Maryland Romance Writers. "It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made," Kaye said.

New writers can benefit from the experiences of published authors. "The person who has 100 books published is willing to work with the person who is pre-published," Fields said.

"We really value mentorship in this organization," Kaye said, noting that the group is more collegial than one might expect.

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