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September 19, 2004: Cataclysm and Change

Cataclysmic events change people’s lives irrevocably. Enormously. Oddly.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was arriving into New York City to prepare for my job as an events consultant for a music industry convention. The convention, with approximately 10,000 attendees, allowed its registrants to attend daytime panels and see music at shows across the lower swath of Manhattan. My job was to plan and execute the daytime programming, the justification most attendees’ companies and colleges required to send their employees and students to New York City. My two year-old son was safely squirreled away with his grandparents in Southern New Jersey and my husband hadn’t yet left for work from our apartment in Brooklyn. At the end of the day, we were all safe, but like everyone else, things changed. For me, it was a minor change, especially in comparison with what others in New York City and Washington, DC, experienced. I lost my job. My husband and I decided I’d stay home for awhile. And I decided that I’d finally give this romance novel-writing thing a try.

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August 10, 2004:
I’m at the Jersey shore with my five year-old son and my mother-in-law. My husband has just traveled back to Brooklyn for a few days. My hair is full of sand, my normally paler than ivory skin is almost tan and I am looking forward to two more weeks at the beach. Not to mention my fortieth birthday, which is in a little more than a week.

There’s a message on my cell phone. It’s my husband: “Honey, honey, honey. X__ X__ from NAL just called. She said she has some good news for you. I know what you’re saying: ‘ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod.’ Here’s her number, call her. And call me.”

I call the editor back. She offers me a deal for my first manuscript. Two days later, after contacting the agent who had already requested my full ms and agreeing to work with her, I contact the editor and officially accept the offer. A Singular Lady will come out as a traditional Regency in October, 2005.

When I started writing in October, 2001, I gave myself a deadline: have a career, or the potential for a career, as a writer by the time my son was full-time in school. If I did not have that, I was going to look for some sort of job. That gave me three years to write a book, get a contract for it, and get published. I was incredibly naïve; I thought I could do it, even though I had never written fiction before. Even though the only romance authors I had read were Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and other historical fiction authors. I stopped reading any of those in college and I had absolutely no idea what was popular or how to get published.

What I did know, however, was that I loved reading about relationships, I loved a happy ending and I knew a lot about the Regency period. When I was ten, and still reading every Barbara Cartland I could find (my first was The Wicked Marquis, although The Dangerous Dandy had a special place in my heart), my dad and I would make up fake Barbara Cartland stories, each more outrageous than the last. So I went to the library and hunted down every paperback with the pink “romance” sticker on the spine, gravitating towards the traditional Regencies at first (not that I knew what made one traditional and the other not) and read them voraciously and indiscriminately. I hunted online for guides to what was good, and soon found All About Romance.

What I liked best about the site was that its reviews were not sycophantic rehashes of the back cover copy. Reading the reviews really gave me a feel as to whether or not I would like the book. As the editor-in-chief of a music industry trade magazine, I had written hundreds of reviews, so I thought I would be able to write book reviews, and I sent an email to Blythe. I began reviewing – and loving it – in August, 2002. Writing for the site allowed me to explore beyond my known genre, and I read a wide variety of styles, authors and genres. Time limitations forced me to quit in January, 2004.

Meanwhile, I had written my book, then rewritten it a couple of times, entering it in a few contests here and there and getting some great feedback and a couple of amazing mentors along the way. I enlisted my father, a retired journalist and bibliophile, as my research partner, and he now knows more than the Regency than I do, not to mention having a research library that rivals any Regency author’s collection. And I read. And read, and read, and read.

I know a lot more now than I did three years ago, and my goal has been achieved: I will be published next year, I have the baby steps towards a career as a writer, and my son began kindergarten September 13, which means I achieved my goal - a full month ahead of schedule. I know there is so much more to learn, especially about publishing and writing the dreaded second book (in the music industry it’s known as the “sophomore curse”), and I will write about that, and the other random bits of detritus that cross my brain, in this journal over the course of the next year or so. Thanks for reading.

-- Megan

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