From Writer’s Digest to Harlequin Romance: Finding my online writing community

Damask rose

“If you want to make money as a writer, write romance novels,” my Creative Writing teacher said, even suggesting we could write under a pen name.  As for me, if I’m going through all the trouble of writing a novel, my name is going to be on the thing.

So, why doesn’t romance get any respect?  Is it because some of it can be labeled as purple prose, the genre is predominantly written by women, or both?  I’ll just pull a Nicholas Sparks and call mine love stories.

As much as I enjoy the poetic form, it is more something I publish on my blog for fun to build name recognition.  Though there is a huge market for poetry, I’ve found that the kind of poetry I like to write (and read) often isn’t the kind being published, which is far too abstract for my taste.  This is what I like:  Saturday Evening Post Limerick Contest.

In all the poetry I’ve submitted, I’ve sold one poem: (Seven Wonders in Every Wonder), and it was published in a magazine (Bella Grace) that I enjoy reading from cover to cover.  Too often, I’ve read poetry journals, wondering what the hell some of it even meant.  I have much better luck with short stories and creative nonfiction (which take me a lot more time to write). 

That’s not to say I’m eschewing writing poetry to submit for publication altogether—I’m just reassessing what I spend my time writing for publications other than my own.

~

Now, I’ve gone and joined the Harlequin Writing Community Facebook page.  What’s great about this group is how supportive they are (men are welcome, too!).  They have  flash-type (400-word) writing challenges every couple of weeks or so, with some pretty stiff stipulations (which only makes it more challenging); moreover, they only give you a couple of days to write them.  The only two I’ve written so far have been historical (maybe they’re looking for a historical fiction writer?), for which I set my scenes in Ancient Greece and in South Carolina during the Civil War.  The best thing is that you get feedback on what you wrote—and not just comments from other writers but actual feedback from editors—like the type I get from my Creative Writing teacher.  I never got this with Writer’s Digest, so if you’re interested in writing romance, check it out:  So You Think You Can Write.

As for the Facebook page, I feel that I’m a better fit for that community.  I’m not just writing for a hobby—I want to make it my career.  Many of us are in the process of writing a book to submit to Harlequin.  I’m not there yet because I don’t have time for a large project (70K words), though I am in the stages of outlining it. 

~

Though I miss writing book reviews, I don’t have time to write a full-length one anymore, especially with as much as I read; I also quit the university newspaper, as half the articles I wrote never got published.  Though I respect the editor’s decision not to print (or rather, post them), I spent too much time conducting interviews and transcribing audio for them not to get published.  I was graciously invited by the adviser to submit an opinion piece, so that is something I may consider after I finish this American Lit class that’s kicking my keister. 

Rather, I’m making the push to write more short stories (I’ve been reading everything Shirley Jackson has written and rewatching most of The Twilight Zone series—the legit one with Rod Serling; however, if the episode is about Nazis, boxing, or set in the Wild West, I skip it).  I got too hung up on writing novels (with short stories, you get paid once; with novels, you get royalties), but some stories just aren’t novel length.  This realization has opened up a whole world of possibilities for many of my ideas, which have remained dormant for years.  I’d been writing poetry and working on my novel (Because of Mindy Wiley) for so long that I’d forgotten how great short fiction (and creative nonfiction) can be. 

For now, I do expository writing for the Medium publishing platform: Medium/Sarah Richards, in addition to reposting my best blog posts.  I still have a couple of other accounts where I post short works that will eventually end up on my blog (I am planning an ebook on the writing craft, but I need to become more published to have credibility; I am also planning a book of short poetry for people who don’t like poetry), so it’s a two for the price of one deal.  I feel like I’ve finally found my writing niche, as well as future homes for my writing. 

Taking a college-level Creative Writing class, joining the Harlequin community, and letting go of some other things that were no longer paying off (but were, nevertheless, part of the process), has helped me reach this point. 

Poem-a-Day November 2018 Writer’s Digest Challenge #10. Theme: Teenage

The Persistence of Her Memory

When she lost her memories of adulthood,
she was seventeen again,
but in a body that had seen several oil changes.
She grieved for the second time for the grandparents she had lost,
except all at once;
she grieved for the friends who had grown up or grown apart,
not understanding why they couldn’t pick up where they had left off.
She read her own journal and recognized not the person in it,
for she was a stranger,
even to herself.
Every day she lived,
she would gain one day of memory back—
live a day, gain a day—
so that the old was as real to her as the new.
She spread old memories like a receiving blanket around all who’d known her
that year of nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-nine,
wrapping everyone up in what they thought they’d forgotten—
some queer little thing that would make them smile in remembrance,
illuminating a generation of people through shared nostalgia—
of Friday nights at Blockbuster and posing for Glamour Shots in the mall
when half the girls wanted to look like Claudia Schiffer,
of making fun of after-school special reruns and Harlequin romances,
of quiet libraries and talking on the telephone,
of politics not infiltrating every conversation,
of the era of Jesus freaks who wore the WWJD bracelets
and carried their Bibles on top of their textbooks,
of working at Baskin Robbins on Saturday mornings
and not finishing the ice cream cakes fast enough,
of high school graduation with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”
and “Time of Your Life” by Green Day,
of her dreams of having a Little Lucy and a Little Ricky
with a man who looked like Prince William,
and a million other little things that had marked her teenage years,
had marked her.
Her husband waited for that day—
seven years into the future—
when she would remember the day she had fallen in love with him,
but time created new memories,
and she fell for him all over again,
for she could neither wait for time nor pass it,
but rather,
surpass it.

2018 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 10

Books: A part of my childhood, a part of my adulthood

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My earliest memory of books was when my dad read nursery rhymes to me—about  kings and queens, farmers and peasants—a precursor to fairy tales. When I won first place for my nonfiction piece, “A Memoir of Mother Goose,” I told my old professor that I had a slight “obsession with Mother Goose.” He’d chuckled and said it could be worse.

Mom and I read the Encyclopedia Brown series together, often in the car when my parents sold lamps and lampshades at an outdoor flea market in Summerdale, Alabama. Books were my salvation from boredom. If I didn’t have a new book, I’d reread an old one. I think I read Mom, You’re Fired! by Lou Kassem every day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where I stayed with my grandparents every summer as an adolescent and tween. I also read many stories in the Mostly Magic installment of the Through Golden Windows series, printed in 1958; I loved all the retro books my grandmother’s bookcases were filled with. I remember it was a lot more fun to sift through books than it was to surf through channels.

Still is. 

Many Moons by James Thurber was (and still is) my all-time favorite children’s book, but I also loved the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar and The Face on the Milk Carton series by Caroline B. Cooney.

I guess you could say I’ve always been a series girl—The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin in elementary, Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal in middle, and V.C. Andrews in high school—the last of which I stopped reading when Andrew Neiderman (Andrews’ ghostwriter) turned out to be a hack.

I read many a Harlequin romance in my early twenties, which I deemed as research. (I wanted to write for them.)  My mom and I shared a lot of books—Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, and Sandra Brown—the usual suspects.  

In my late twenties and early thirties, I fell in love with Linda Hall novels—Christian fiction that didn’t resort to caricatures (as a lot of Christian fiction does). I reread her books every so often, but LaVyrle Spencer’s Small Town Girl will always be my favorite. I remember reading it when I was live-in nannying for three girls in Sidney, Montana, and feeling a bit homesick. The book is set in fictional Wintergreen, Missouri, which, is close to Poplar Bluff. It was because of that reference, perhaps, that I called my Aunt Cheryll (she and my uncle had recently split up after 27 years of marriage), with her telling me that she loved me; I realized then she would always be Aunt Cheryll to me.  

If I had to choose three classic novels that top all the others I’ve read thus far, it would be Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Ironically, the films that were adapted from these fine works were flawless.) Sometimes I wonder if it were the heroines of these novels that make them so beloved—a feisty Southern belle who toughened up when push came to pushing back ten times harder and two precocious girls (one of them a storyteller, the other, a writer).

Though television programming has become portable with the advent of cell phones, back in the eighties and nineties, reading was the perfect, portable form of entertainment. At night, when I could no longer see (no Kindles then), I’d make up stories in my head.

My dad instilled in me, through poetry, a legacy of literacy—just as my mom shared that legacy with me. Thus, I am passing this legacy on to my daughter, who loves Mother Goose as much as I always will.

Updated 12/4/2019

My Trivial (and not so trivial) Pursuits of Summer

Summery

Though I was disappointed that summer classes weren’t available in my degree program, it’s still been a pretty great summer.  I still accomplished a lot, and used some of my time somewhat wisely.  The list below pretty much sums up the season for me (so far):

  1. Binge watched the entire series of “Medium” on Netflix (I’d missed the last season, so I started with it, and worked my way back).  It’s where I got the idea of including a little note in my child’s lunch (as soon as she’s old enough to read them).
  2. Participated in the Writer’s Digest “Poem-a-Day” challenge for the month of April.
  3. Made my first live television appearance on “The Daily Brew” with my friend, Mandy, who also participated in the challenge.
  4. Writing my third Harlequin novel (the first two haven’t been picked up yet) for the “So You Think You Can Write” contest.
  5. Mastered mouse-moving dexterity with my left hand (no more carpal tunnel in my dominant hand).
  6. Became a volunteer article writer for the Gulf Coast Kid’s House.
  7. Enrolled in a creative writing course at the local college.  I could only get into one class this semester (everything was either full, required a pre-req, or it wasn’t offered during the fall term).  I used this delay as an opportunity to take a class that excites me.
  8. Finally accepted that I will never like bananas (unless they’re in a dessert).  Same goes for sweet potatoes and avocados.
  9. Submitted my collection of children’s nursery rhymes, “Golden Stars and Silver Linings” to Wordsong Press.
  10. Learned how to have fun for fun’s sake.  Not everything has to be a learning opportunity for my two-year-old daughter.  Making memories and having fun is a big part of childhood.  I learned from an occupational therapist that a child’s job is to do just that:  Have fun.
  11. Became a quarter-finalist in the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize contest for my collection of medical poetry, “Complexities”.  (Final results are still pending.)  Whether or not I win, I will still have completed a large body of work in a relatively short amount of time.  I am determined that every piece of writing I’ve deemed good will eventually find a home.  Every rejection is an opportunity to make a piece better.

100-word pitch to Harlequin’s “So You Think You Can Write” contest

rose and veil

Brian Schlaes and Sarah Lawson want a child.  Sarah believes had they met ten years earlier, even though both were very different people, they would have grown together and become what they were supposed to become.  They get an opportunity to “start over”, to gain nine years of extra memories at the expense of one.  With the help of an angel who calls herself Aphrodite, they will be placed in the same place at the same time, nine years prior.  They risk everything for the chance to fall in love a second time, but will others get in the way?

The Trees of Life: A Poem, and other musings

It has been almost a month since my last posting.  Spending more time with family, enjoying summer, and wading through all the red tape to go back to school has taken up most of June.  I have been hopping from Building 5 to Building 2 to back again for weeks now, and I have yet to make it to the beach.  It is the raining season in Florida.  One year (I don’t remember which, but it’s been within the last three years), it rained every day in July.  I have, however, made use of all my old seashells (pictures to come later).

I have finished my story for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Short Story contest, and I got together with a friend of mine over coffee to help me edit, and hopefully, publish and market “Golden Stars and Silver Linings”, my collection of children’s nursery rhymes (50 in all), complete with a few recreational drug references and double entendres (however unintentional).

Though I don’t consider writing poetry a waste of time (they’re great writing exercises and fun to write, too), poetry for adults just doesn’t sell; though I have several favorite poems by the greats (Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe), I never read modern, adult poetry.  I’ll still enter free poetry contests for which there is a cash prize (a pine needle in a hay bale?), but I refuse to pay any more entry fees when it comes to poetry contests.  Poetry isn’t hot (people like stories), and so those venues that publish it have to charge entry fees just to stay in print because they don’t make money off subscriptions.  Harlequin romances sell, and that’s my focus right now (as far as adult novels go).  Poetry might be more fun to write, to do, than to read (like tennis is more fun to play than watch).  I tend to feel about poetry in novels like I feel about paragraphs written in italics:  (obvious) dream sequences bore me as much in novels as they do in movies.

There is one movie, “The Woman in the Window”, with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett (highly recommended), in which almost the entire movie is a dream, but that’s okay, because we don’t know it till the end.  The fact that it was all a dream was a bit of a letdown.

Though Dorothy’s adventures in Oz also turned out to be all a dream, I prefer to believe she somehow, telepathically, traveled to a parallel universe.

The poem you about to read is based in reality, though creative license was taken.  It was entered into a tree-themed poetry contest.  I never heard back, so I assumed it wasn’t chosen.  I have noticed that many journals that publish poetry specify they don’t care for rhymed poetry, that it reads better, blah, blah, blah.  I believe there is a certain snootiness where rhyming poetry is concerned–it is seen as not edgy or provocative, but trite and childish.  I disagree, as long as the rhyming isn’t forced and is written well.  With this poem, I experimented with rhyming every first and third line, and every second and fourth.  It was a very difficult task, and quite unnecessary; second and fourth would have been sufficient.

However, here it is:

The Trees of Life

Twas under the magnolia tree with its voluptuous, white blooms,
where I read piles of books while drinking sweet tea from a tall glass;
by the light of the pearl moon I read, the honeysuckle releasing its perfume,
my pillow a denim backpack, my bed a lush patch of St. Augustine grass.

Twas under my grandmother’s dying hickory trees,
that I wiled away the lazy summer days in sweet repose,
writing the kinds of stories I loved to read,
the scent of peach pound cake teasing my nose.

Twas under the ancient oak at my parents’ house on Jackson Street,
that my husband-to-be, knelt in the sand on one knee;
*his grandmother’s band of rose gold with a pearl solitaire,
slipped it on my finger–this intricate heirloom of sentimental wear.

Tis every birthday, under the curving colonnade on Twelfth Avenue,
my husband takes me to the Cactus Flower cafe,
classical music playing with the window down partway,
the breeze blowing through my hair those warm, September days.

Tis past rows of swaying palm trees I walk,
flip-flops slapping hot concrete on the way to the boardwalk–
the beauty of the Emerald Coast shimmering in the background,
full of seashells—jewels of the sea–just waiting to be found.

Tis under the Christmas tree,
I lay my baby daughter beside me,
to look up at the twinkling lights–
lights in red, green and white.

Tis amongst the pine trees in the park we watch our children play,
picnicking on our tattered blanket of blue and white squares,
enjoying a Southern smorgasbord of homemade foods artfully arrayed,
whilst a spray of dandelion seeds and yellow butterflies float in midair.

Tis under trees of various species,
we gather ’round the table in our backyard,
enjoying the warmth of the bricks under our feet,
the steaks juicy, the peaches deliciously charred.

And then the day will come and so it will be,
that under the shade of a weeping willow tree,
I will return to the earth in eternal rest,
peace in knowing I have lived my best.

Easter Sunday 2011

Query letter to Harlequin Romance

I’ve poked a little fun at Harlequin romances, but they SELL!  I wrote “Regina Fair” specifically for the market after my mom told me they read every manuscript they receive.  Janet Dailey, the most successful female author ever, started her career by writing for Harlequin.

~

My completed novel, “Regina Fair”, intended for the Harlequin Romance (Cherish and Riva) Line, is a light romance that deals with a serious subject: the decision to not have children.

~

Regina Morrow is a twenty-eight-year-old woman whose boyfriend dumped her several years ago because of her desire to be childfree.

Forty-one-year-old widower Rick George (whom Regina has loved from a distance for five years), is her boss, and fraternization is forbidden. It isn’t until Rick’s grown daughter, Cassie, and Regina’s kid sister, Juliet, plot to play matchmaker, that Rick and Regina are forced to acknowledge their mutual attraction.

As Regina becomes acquainted with some of Rick’s old girlfriends along the way, finding out why it didn’t work out between them, she begins to suspect that she will be just another ex-girlfriend.

The thing is, Rick has always wanted more children, so, fearing he would choose to marry her, hoping she will change (and resenting her if she doesn’t), Regina decides to break it off with him.

Months pass, and Rick realizes he must convince Regina that she is all he wants. Though he’d wanted more children with his wife, that was a long time ago, and what he’s wanted in life has changed.

It’s up to him to convince Regina that she is enough for him, and he does, in a way that surprises even himself.

~

I am thirty-two years old, but have been writing since I was old enough to write. Cutting up every paper in the house was my creative outlet before then.

I enjoy writing in many different styles and genres, from light romance to Southern Gothic horror to nursery rhymes. I am currently working on the second book to “Regina Fair”, which will be part of a series set in the small town of Princeton, Florida.

Though I’m from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, I’ve lived in Pensacola, Florida, almost all my life, which has served as the inspiration for Princeton.

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warm regards,

Sarah Lea Richards