Local romance writers host March 23 eventWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Several years ago, aspiring writer Jenna Rutland finished reading a romance novel and was surprised to discover its authors lived nearby.
The book was written by Tony and Lori Karayianni, a Toledo couple who have published dozens of titles under the pseudonym Tori Carrington.
“I found out they lived in Toledo, Ohio, which just totally shocked me because I always thought a writer has to live in New York,” said Rutland, the pseudonym of a Temperance medical transcriptionist. “I went to their website and saw they were going to be doing a book signing in Monroe so I went and met them and they told me about this group.”
Many people are surprised there are published romance writers in the Toledo area, said Rutland, who recently published her first book, “Just for the Summer,” through Entangled Publishing.
The Maumee Valley Romance Writers of America (MVRWA) is the local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), a group with more than 10,000 members in 145 chapters.
The local chapter, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, will host its free annual Book Lovers Event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 23 at Sanger Branch Library, 3030 W. Central Ave., featuring free books, readings from published authors, panel discussions, raffles and more.
“Just pop in and say hi,” said Wendy Burke, the pseudonym of a Springfield Township woman who works at a local television station. “If you think it’s just a bunch of people sitting around being stodgy and talking about books, that’s not the case at all.”
Members said they find kindred spirits and a support system through the group.
“You can talk writing and they understand you,” Rutland said. “As supportive as my family is, you only have a short amount of time and you lose them.”
“I like breaking boundaries. I like the freedom of imagination,” added Shay Lacy, the pseudonym of a Toledo secretary who has six books published. “This group supports me through my successes and my difficult times.”
Unpublished members can glean tips from more experienced writers.
“Everybody’s so willing to share,” said Constance Phillips of Perrysburg, who works in the office of her husband’s hardwood flooring company and is one of the few group members who writes under her real name.
Phillips’ first book, “Fairyproof,” was published in September by Crescent Moon Press. Her second book, “Resurrecting Harry,” came out in March.
“It’s amazing [to be published],” Phillips said. “You can’t really describe it. You spend years and years fighting the current and battling rejections and then to get that is pretty amazing.”
Romance novels generated more than $1.36 billion in sales in 2011 and accounted for 14.3 percent of the U.S. consumer fiction market, according to research cited by RWA. That’s compared to religion/inspirational fiction ($715 million), mystery ($709 million), science fiction/fantasy ($579 million) and classic literary fiction ($467 million).
The genre is broad — ranging from faith-based inspirational to erotica — but the hallmarks are a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending, according to RWA.
“About the only universal law to a romance is that there’s a happily ever after,” Phillips said. “Other than that, you could put five different romance books together and they’d be as different as night and day.”
The percentage of romance titles sold as e-books has proportionally doubled in one year, from 22 percent in 2011 to 44 percent in 2012, according to RWA.
“There’s been a huge growth there in the past five years,” Phillips said. “I think the big change is Amazon and Barnes & Noble developed readers the public could easily use. The physical devices opened up the market for e-publishing to grow.”
Half a dozen MVRWA group members were newly published last year.
“It was a pretty amazing time last year,” Phillips said. “It was one after the other.”
The streak hit shortly after a meeting where members were feeling pretty discouraged, Burke said.
“We all kind of sat there and cried,” Burke said. “It was a difficult time. We encouraged everybody and then it was bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, in the matter of a few months.”
Retired teacher Susana Ellis of Toledo found MVRWA while searching online for writing groups. The emotional day Burked described was Ellis’ first meeting. Rather than scare her away, the tears made her feel less alone after getting some negative feedback about her writing.
“I was totally devastated,” said Ellis, a pseudonym for the former eighth-grade foreign language teacher. “So when I saw the group members were all upset, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one.’ I just felt like these were people who liked to do what I liked to do and we had a lot in common. I’ve learned so much in the past year.”
Ellis grew up on a farm, where she told stories to her sisters and was often chastised for shirking her chores to read.
“I really think you write what you read,” said Ellis, who writes historical romance, mainly set in the early 1800s Regency Era. “I’ve just read historical romance, especially Regencies, for decades, so that’s what comes naturally to me.”
Ellis recently published her first short story, “Treasuring Theresa,” through Ellora’s Cave, a publisher mainly known for erotic romance, but which also has a line of Regency romances called Blush Cotillion.
Ellis didn’t plan on telling her conservative family about her writing, but accidently revealed her secret when she replied to an email with the signature of her pseudonym.
“I have one sister who is definitely not supportive, but actually it’s turned out to be a pretty positive thing,” Ellis said. “Everybody else has been really supportive.”
MVRWA is also inspiring the next generation of romance writers. Phillips’ daughter Katelynn Phillips joined two years ago and was inspired by her mom to become a writer herself. The 20-year-old Bowling Green State University sophomore recently changed her major from visual communications technology to English.
“I’m not entirely sure where that’s going yet, but I do want to be a writer sometime in my life,” Katelynn said. “I don’t think I would have had the idea to even switch majors if I didn’t have people like the people in this group, my parents or my friends who told me I could do it.
“When [my mom] was published it was great because it’s wonderful to see somebody who’s put in so much time and effort and supported you achieve their dreams,” Katelynn said. “It shows that hard work pays off.”
For more information, visit www.mvrwa.net.