I was wondering if there are any interviews you’ve ever done that talk more about your journey to becoming published and the challenges you faced, starting your career later in life. I’d especially like to know more about what in you did prior to becoming a published writer, and what encouraged you to pursue it. If not, would you be willing to either reply to my reply or make a post talking about it?
I’ve done a million interviews but most of them are lost in time (as they should be). So here are the answers to your interview questions (g).
What did you do prior to becoming a published writer?
I earned a BA in Art Education and taught art for ten years at the elementary and junior high levels, and then earned an MA in Literature and Professional (Technical) Writing and taught high school English for five years, with a break to do all of my coursework for a Phd. I quit to go back to teaching at Ohio State as a TA while I worked on my dissertation on the impact of gender in storytelling, and the research included reading a lot of romance novels, and that reading had a profound impact on my state of mind (I’d been insanely depressed and reading romance novels was energizing and positive). I was an academic so of course I had to find out why reading trashy novels had such an impact, but when I began to study them, I realized that the “trashy” part had been received from patriarchal assumptions and that romance novels were actually the most feminist form of fiction I’d ever read. So I decided to write one to see if writing the narrative had the same impact as reading them.
What encouraged you to pursue writing romance?
It was fun because I could write about angry, mouthy women who kicked ass and won the day. I really saw it back then as a form of feminist rebellion. Actually, I still see it as a form of feminist rebellion, putting a woman at the center of the narrative and giving her agency in her life (and if you think that’s not at risk right now, looking at what those fuckers in Texas are doing, may they rot in hell). Then it turned out they give you money for writing feminist rebellion, so I just kept going. I didn’t have any big plans to transform romance or transcend the genre, I just loved writing stories about women who had no time for the patriarchy. And the men who were smart enough to love them.
Talk more about your journey to becoming published . . .
I started my first romance at 41 (it was awful), wrote three more, took the first awful start and turned it into a novella called “Sizzle,” and entered it in a Silhouette contest which I was sure it wouldn’t win but thought that they might ask for my novel, Keeping Kate.. They picked twelve winners and “Sizzle” was one of them, which made me cringe–never offer anything for publication that you don’t want to see published–and turned down Keeping Kate. But the editor sent it to a book doctor at Harlequin, Sherie Posesorskie, who was brilliant and helped me save the book. That was when I realized that degrees in English did not teach you anything about writing fiction and I started to study that in seminars like Michael Hague’s (highly recommended) and working on an MFA with Lee K Abbott at OSU (also highly recommended), plus reading a lot of writing books. Harlequin published Keeping Kate as Manhunting (always hated the title) and took my next book, Getting Rid of Bradley. And then rejected the next one I’d written before I’d sold anything, The Cinderella Deal.
So I asked my editor if I could sell The Cinderella Deal somewhere else, and she said, “We have the option on your next book,” and I said, “Yes, but you just rejected it,” and she said, “WAIT A MINUTE,” and came back shortly and said, “We’ll buy the book,” and then asked for so many basic changes (new name for protagonist, new career for protagonist, no father issues for protagonist . . .) that I said, “Why did you buy this book?” and she said, “We didn’t, we bought your option, write any book you want, just not The Cinderella Deal,” so I rewrote The Cinderella Deal into Strange Bedpersons, and then a couple of years later sold The Cinderella Deal to Bantam. Publishing is a weird business.
I did six books for Harlequin and then they put a new clause in the contracts that said the publisher would hold the moral rights to the work (meaning they could change anything in the book and I would have no recourse) so I said, “Nope” and left. By then I had a great agent in Meg Ruley, and she sold two books to Bantam so I could eat while I wrote my first single title, Tell Me Lies, which she sold to Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martin’s Press, one of the best editors in the business, and I got a two book contract for paperback originals. When I turned the book in, Jen said, “We’re doing this in hardcover” and that’s when things took off.
and the challenges you faced, starting your career later in life.
Well, menopause screwed with my brain, so that wasn’t a help. Otherwise starting late wasn’t a problem. It’s good to have some life experience to draw on.
But the pressures of rising in any career are always difficult: the better you do the better you’re expected to do. There is no free lunch, no point at which everything gets easy. Every book is a new product launch. The hardest thing about writing novels that get published is keeping the publishing part out of the writing part because the expectation can kill you. (This is where I make it clear that my agent and editor were always completely supportive, even when they wanted to strangle me.)
I think one of the hardest things was the brand trap. It pays off big if you establish a brand for yourself. SMP went for “Jennifer Crusie, funny contemporary romantic comedy,” and that was fine with me until I wanted to write something a little different–romantic adventure, black comedy, supernatural with demons, supernatural with witches, supernatural with demigoddesses, supernatural with ghosts–because I have a very short attention span. What everybody wanted was a sequel to Bet Me, but Bet Me was finished. Then Bad Things happened (not publishing things) and I lost my grip and my agent (we’re still good friends, she’s great) and I got a new agent, Jodi Reamer, who is fabulous and supportive, and I kept writing but I couldn’t finish anything, and the one thing I did manage to finish Jen rejected because it was supernatural, and my brand is contemporary romantic comedy. So I have one book that’s almost rewritten again and another ten started, and I haven’t published anything in ten? twelve? years, and who knows what happens next?
Publishing is not for wimps.