Local writers pen novels that move the world’s starry-eyed readersWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
By day, they are hairdressers, lawyers, corporate consultants and TV station assignment managers; by night, they pen steamy romance novels.
Once a month, they gather to talk, laugh, share and learn from one another as members of the Maumee Valley Romance Writers of America (MVRWA), a local writers group that will celebrate its 20th anniversary in September.
The romance genre is broad — ranging from faith-based inspirational tales to kinky erotica —but all stories feature a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending, according to the Romance Writers of America, which has more than 10,000 members in 145 chapters worldwide, mostly in the United States and Canada.
“As a writer, you can project everything you’ve ever wanted in a relationship into your characters. As a reader, you can basically get lost in other people,” said local author Wendy Burke. “I think it’s just a way for people to escape.”
Burke is the pseudonym of the 49-year-old Springfield Township woman who writes “romance with erotic elements” when she’s not working as an assignment manager at a local television station. Her third book was published in February by online publisher Decadent Publishing.
“It’s a nice change from ‘Man struck by car, more at 10,’” said Burke, who said she has met kindred spirits through MVRWA.
“I found out I’m not crazy, that there are other people who have people running around in their heads that have to be let out. It’s been a great resource and a great support,” Burke said.
Elizabeth Vaughan of Toledo said writing romance is a stress-reliever and a nice change from the formal writing she does as a lawyer.
The 53-year-old, who writes under her real name, has published seven books, including USA Today best-seller “Warsworn.”
“The best compliment I ever got was, ‘I stayed up all night reading your book,’” Vaughan said. “I want to craft something that sweeps someone away from their real life for a couple of hours.”
Vaughan said she has thick skin as an attorney, but is more sensitive when it comes to her writing.
“If someone would tell me they hate my book, I’d probably excuse myself and go to the bathroom and sob my eyes out,” Vaughan said. “I have a very thin skin when it comes to the writing and that’s because it’s a creative, emotional project. I’m pouring myself out there on the page.”
Vaughan said her co-workers know she writes romance and some of them read her books.
“We do tend to play little head games with one another in the courtroom and they’ve attempted to use the fact that I write romance. I simply lean forward and say, ‘Are you offering to help with the research?’ and that usually shuts them right down,” Vaughan said, laughing.
Dumpster to big screen?
Tony Karayianni and his wife, Lori, write together under the pseudonym Tori Carrington. The Toledo couple has published 54 books and may soon see one of their book series translated to the big screen.
Paramount Pictures has expressed interest in turning their “Sofie Metropolis” series into a movie. The comedic romance mystery series features a Greek-American private investigator from New York City. “Queens Ransom,” the most recent book in the series, will be published in September by Tor/Forge Books, an imprint of Macmillan.
The Karayiannis, who were among the founding members of the MVRWA, started writing in the early 1980s after stumbling upon a box of romance novels beside a Dumpster behind a Toledo restaurant. They decided to try writing their own.
It took more than 13 years and 27 rejected manuscripts before their first book, “Constant Craving,” was published by Harlequin. Today, their books have been translated into 24 languages with more than 5 million copies sold in 90 countries.
Karayianni — who said he reads more romance novels than his wife — said he has enjoyed storytelling since his childhood in Greece. He would stop to play soccer with friends on the way home from running errands for his mother and have to make up stories to explain to her why he was late.
Karayianni said the biggest compliment he could receive as a romance writer would be one of his stories spurring a reader into action.
“The best thing is to pick up one of my sex scenes and do it,” he said, grinning, to laughter from the rest of the MVRWA members.
Deanna Wadsworth, a 35-year-old hairdresser from Grand Rapids, Ohio, writes mainly erotic fiction, including homosexual relationships and ménage à trois.
“When friends are going out, I always say, ‘Have fun, don’t do anything I would write about,’” Wadsworth said.
Wadsworth’s first published book, “Red Riding Hood,” an erotic retelling of the classic children’s tale, hit No. 15 best-seller on Amazon’s erotica list in 2010. Her eighth book, “Accidentally Beautiful,” was released this month by Decadent.
Wadsworth said she started writing in high school, but got distracted by marriage and work before rediscovering some old manuscripts during a move about six years ago.
“I just like telling stories, whether I’m talking out loud or I’m writing it. I’ve been doing it forever. It’s just such a part of me,” Wadsworth said. “I’ve got a lot of ideas. I probably have 20-plus books I want to write.”
In MVRWA, Wadsworth has found a group of friends who can truly celebrate her successes and commiserate with her struggles.
“When I get exciting news, my husband smiles and says ‘Honey, that’s great.’ He wants to be excited for me, but I can see the fact he doesn’t really get it in his eyes,” Wadsworth said. “It’s nice to be somewhere where they get to share my joy and share my pain without having to explain what it all means.”
Although he doesn’t always understand the nuances, Wadsworth said her husband enjoys her side job for at least one reason.
“I think my husband likes it after I’ve been writing sex all day,” Wadsworth said, laughing. “If you’re writing erotica and it doesn’t get you hot, you didn’t write it right.”
Romance novels generated more than $1.35 billion in sales in 2010, accounting for 13.4 percent of the U.S. consumer fiction market, according to research cited by the Romance Writers of America. That’s compared to religion/inspirational fiction ($759 million), mystery ($682 million), science fiction/fantasy ($559 million) and classic literary fiction ($455 million). Romance is also the fastest-growing segment of the e-reading market.
Harlequin has long been the industry giant of the romance publishing world, but Wadsworth said she prefers working with smaller online publishers because there are fewer restrictions.
“As soon as you tell me I can’t write something, that’s all I want to write,” Wadsworth said. “With digital publishing, there’s not as many boundaries, and the boundaries that are there, they want you to push them. I’m not a rebellious person by nature, but in my writing I am.”
Most romance writers are women and women also make up a majority of the genre’s readers. Sixty-two percent of women and 44 percent of men in the U.S. have purchased a romance novel, according to a 2010 consumer survey, with women accounting for 67 percent of sales.
“It’s the only genre out there written for women, by women and about women,” said Denise Lynn of Toledo, a former computer systems manager who now writes romance full time.
The 55-year-old writes mainly historical and paranormal stories for the Harlequin Historical and Harlequin Nocturne series and will soon publish her 14th book.
“I always want to read a romance novel and end up knowing that love conquers all,” said Lynn, whose pseudonym is her real first and middle name. “That’s what I hope I get across in mine.”
Because most romance writers use a pseudonym, a common assumption is they are embarrassed by their work. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, the writers said.
“I’m proud of what I do,” Wadsworth said. “The truth is I tell everybody. Well, except my mom — that’s different. Sometimes I get into a little bit of trouble because I don’t have a lot of filters.”
For unpublished members, like chapter president Patrice Kavanaugh of Toledo, MVRWA provides support, networking opportunities and insider advice, similar to joining any professional organization.
Kavanaugh, a corporate brand consultant who writes thrillers with romantic elements, has been writing romance for 12 years and joined MVRWA three years ago.
“They are a great repository for information,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s hard to learn it all, plus write, plus promote, plus real life. I wish I’d done it 12 years ago.”
Nancy Down, head librarian at Bowling Green State University’s Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies, said the romance genre is starting to be taken more seriously by academics.
“For a long time, academics haven’t taken romance seriously. I think there’s something about having a happy ending; people take that less seriously,” Down said. “More people are buying romances than any other type of book. It makes sense to study what it means and why people are attracted to reading the books. All the popular culture conferences now have a section on romance writers and literature. There’s a lot more articles and books coming out studying the various genres and different writers.”
BGSU’s Department of Popular Culture was the first of its kind in the country. The school’s popular culture library, located on the fourth floor of the main library, was one of the first to build a comprehensive collection of romance books, manuscripts and memorabilia. The library also houses the papers of the Romance Writers of America.
“It’s interesting when you go to our collection, you can see how the different roles women played in our society have changed through the years. They are mirrored in the romances,” Down said. “In the early ones, women could only have certain careers — nurses, governesses, companions to rich people. Today almost any career you can have can be found in a romance novel. It’s an interesting cultural history of our times.”
The best thing about the romance genre is there is something for everyone, Wadsworth said.
“It doesn’t matter what you like to read — dragons, cops, Westerns, pilgrims, crocodile shapeshifters, something that’s going to make you weep and cry, nothing but raw sex — the romance genre’s got it covered,” Wadsworth said. “And you always get a happily ever after.”
Book Lovers event
The MVRWA meets the fourth Saturday of each month. The group will host its annual Spring Book Lovers event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 24 at Sanger Branch Library, 3030 W. Central Ave. The free event will include readings and panel discussions from local authors, free books, free food and more.
For more information, including meeting locations and times, visit mvrwa.net.