Before They Were Authors

career The recent Labor Day weekend had friends and I discussing the changing job market. Many of us had launched into second (and even third) career paths, something that certainly wasn’t expected when we initially graduated from college. This got me to thinking of others who have a secondary career path (or sometimes even just a second job!); the writers who keep me supplied in romances.

Contrary to what many in the media may think, an author does not, as Eileen Dreyer so succinctly put it, choose this path because she is “a sexually frustrated loser dressed in a robe and bunny slippers who lives in a dreary apartment with my cat and lives vicariously through my devastatingly beautiful heroines.” Most seem to choose it because it is a girlhood dream. And many, many, many of them come to writing only after having pursued another career first. I am fascinated by the diversity of what those careers are and thought others might be to. So here it is, a cataloging of what several of the greats did before they were romance writers.

Linda Howard worked at a trucking company, which explains to me at least why she can create such realistic men. I would imagine working in a male dominated field like that would show one a great deal about how the opposite sex thinks. Susanna Kearsley was a museum curator, and I think that is reflected in the wonderful historical settings of some of her novels. Justine Davis was in law enforcement before being a writer. She writes authentic romantic suspense with an authentic flavor now.  And Inez Kelly was a 911 dispatcher and Linnea Sinclair worked as a private detective and also a news reporter before taking on romantic science fiction. Sandra Brown also worked as a reporter, and Pamela Clare “went to work for a newspaper and held almost every position in the newsroom before becoming the paper’s first woman editor.” Karina Bliss, who has received a DIK here at AAR for Here Comes the Groom, worked as a travel journalist. And Carla Kelly? Well, among her many and varied careers, she has worked as a park ranger and was a Valley City Time Record feature writer.

Many of our favorite writers have worked in the medical profession. Tess Gerritsen worked as a doctor in Honolulu, HI. Eileen Dreyer is a retired trauma nurse and is also trained in forensic nursing, and J. R. Ward was Chief of Staff at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

And of course, we have several scientists. Stephanie Laurens has worked in cancer research. Laura Kinsale has a Master of Science in Geology and has worked in the petroleum industry, and Karen Rose worked as a chemical engineer.

One of our most popular professions seems to be lawyers . . . . Nicole Burnham worked as a lawyer in St. Louis, MO. Julie James is a lawyer who has put that experience into many of her novels. Dorien Kelly, current President of RWA, Helen Kay Dimon, Christine Wells, Monica McCarty, and Lauren Willig are or have been attorneys at some point in their life. And there’s probably even more of them out there!

And then there are the teachers . . . . Mary Balogh, one of my very favorites, worked as a high school teacher and Susan Elizabeth Phillips did as well. Kylie Brant is a special education teacher during the day and author by night. Charlotte McClain is a kindergarten teacher in Abu Dhabi.

One story that really touched me was that of Debbie Macomber. Wildly successful, having had her novels turned into television programs, Ms. Macomber did not have an easy road to publishing. Her story is one of determination and perseverance rather than education and glamorous careers.

Finally, in a tribute to our troops, we have our military authors. Susan Grant is a USAF veteran. (Her current career is pretty awesome too. She flies 747’s, how cool is that?) Merline Lovelace also spent time in USAF, 23 years to be exact, retiring at the rank of Colonel. Harlequin Christyne Butler served in the Navy and fell in love with romance novels when someone sent a box of books to the ship she was serving on.

As a community we are often belittled for our reading material. The list above serves as a great reminder that our readers and writers are intelligent, vibrant women who make great contributions to the communities in which they live. So authors, if I missed putting you on my list (and I know missed many, many of you) what do you do? And readers, did you know about all the varied careers of your favorites?

- Maggie Boyd

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12 Responses to Before They Were Authors

  1. Leigh says:

    Maggie, I knew some of them but definitely not all. I find it interesting that many gave up “safe or secure” positions to venture into publishering, where with the end of their contract, they are have to go into selling mode again and being published is never guaranteed. To me that indicates a love for writing .

    I am glad that many of them did change because if they hadn’t we would have missed out on some great books.

  2. Leigh says:

    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. . . venture into publishing. Honestly I did read it twice before hitting send. Next time it will be three times. You know I am not surprised that so many authors come from careers that required that they pay specific attention to the small details. Because when you don’t you get words like publishering (grin)

  3. Diane says:

    Being an author is not an easy career to get started in so no surprise that authors had previous jobs! It takes a lot of time to get recognized and you have to live between those times.

  4. Susan says:

    J.R. Ward was Cheif of Staff at Beth Israel?!!! Now that’s impressive!

    It’s fascinating what people did before writing. Of course probably for a long time, they wrote and held down their jobs at the same time, waiting for that day when they could “quit thier day job”.

  5. Veronica says:

    Great list! And anyway…. if the authors of romance novels run around in slippers & robes and eat a lot of chocolate, at least they are getting published. That’s more than a lot of people can say!

    • maggie b. says:

      Veronica: Great list! And anyway…. if the authors of romance novels run around in slippers & robes and eat a lot of chocolate, at least they are getting published. That’s more than a lot of people can say!

      To me, if you can afford to run around in slippers & robes all day while eating chocolate and spoiling your cat, you have a dream job.

      maggie b.

  6. maggie b. says:

    I agree Susan and Diane, you would have to have a job before being “discovered.” The old starving artist adage is probably truer today than ever before. :-)

  7. Maria D. says:

    Great post! Didn’t know a whole lot about some of these authors but I know it’s tough getting published and having to deal with others who critique your work. Kudos to all of these women…and can I just say..I’m really impressed about J.R. Ward…totally didn’t know that about her…and Debbie Macomber’s path to publication is definitely an inspriation!

  8. Great post! Boy, I’d love to have been in one of SE Phillips’ High School classes. I love the way she tells and teaches with big ole doses of humor to make it all go down nice and smooth.

    I’m an indie author. By day I’m a lawyer working as a scrivener. That means I spend all my work hours writing or researching what I’ll write next. All my “personal hours” are spent writing romance.

    I’d love to make my romance writing a full time job and from your list I see that I’d be in good company.

  9. Ann Stephens says:

    Thank you for this article! Next time someone makes a snarky comment about how romance writers are frustrated and lonely, I’m referring that person here. I knew the background of several of the authors mentioned, and enjoyed learning about more of those fabulous women.

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