Friday, September 26, 2008

KATHLEEN'S FIRST BOOK (and Coming Full Circle)

Anyone remember the celebration scene in Dances With Wolves when Costner is called upon to tell the story of his buffalo kill one more time? And he says, "No, no, I can't tell the story again. Oh, all right, one more time."

After, yes, 25 years, I've told my first sale story so many times that I feel like everyone in the world has heard it. But the Lakota had heard Costner's story a few times already, too. Oh, all right, ongi. One more time. (Grinning. My big bullseye. V is for Victory. Love this story.)

In the Beginning, I was not a Romance reader. I was an English teacher, Lit major, mother of 3, wife of an Indian cowboy/rancher, Eastern dude gone West. Oh, and a writer. I was always a writer. But I was about 35 years into my journey when I started writing a story for fun--longhand, pencil, spiral notebooks--and was coaxed and cajoled by my Indian Cowboy to let him see what I was doing. He loved the first half--White teacher goes West 100 years ago--and wanted to read the second half. Which meant I had to write a second half. When it was finished, he had no doubt that I could publish it. (My Indian Cowboy was and is an avid reader, you see. Westerns, from Zane Gray to Rosemary Rodgers. Secure in his manhood, his only problem with Romance paperbacks was that they were too thick for the back pocket of his jeans.) Anyway, the book was Private Treaty, and it was eventually the first book purchased for Harlequin Historicals--although published as #2. But that's another story.

My first book was the one you see here. Private Treaty got me an agent, who said we'd sell it sooner or later, but could I write a contemporary category? "They're selling like crazy." I said, "Sure." I had no idea what he was talking about. (I had just made peace with the fact that I'd written a Romance, and the probability that I was--and am--a cradle-to-grave romantic. Indian Cowboy (nod to Christie's "Surfer Guy") had done some rodeo, so I went with that theme. Eastern teacher became Eastern journalist gone West. I attended my first RWA conference as a double Golden Heart finalist for Private Treaty and Someday Soon, which won Best Single Title Contemporary. I met Leslie Wainger, who told me the book was on her desk and she was eager to read it. "I hope you like it," I said. And I had nothing for the next 9 minutes of the 10 minute editor appointment.

We had two offers on Someday Soon. Victory Dance! It could have been published as a Ballentine single title, but we accepted Leslie's offer at Silhouette, which I know now was a good career move. I loved this first cover. Franco Aconero (sp?) was the artist, and every detail I described (Silhouette always gets author input) is included, right down to the green and black "buffalo" shirt. I had one like it.

And the full circle part? After a dozen years or more, I'll have two new Silhouette Specials out in '09. In Care Of Sam Beaudry is scheduled for May and The Prodigal Cowboy for December. Rumor has it that readers are hungry for straight contemporary romance again. In the 25 years since I started publishing, the genre has spawned myriad sub-genres, and each gets its turn to be the new hot thing. What goes around comes around in this business, and a little bird tells me that human boy meets human girl is coming around again. I am so there.

So help me out. Did you start out as a category/series romance reader and/or writer? Have you drifted away? Have you gone around and come around? Or has it always been good for you? What changes have you seen in category romance? (Can my cowboy hero cuss?)

Have you found yourself coming full circle in your journey? In what ways?

16 comments:

Cait London said...

1. I think it's really interesting that Kathleen, who is married to a Sioux, uses the term Indian, while we are nudged to use Native American. :)
2. Frankly, I'm glad she's coming full circle. Congratulations, Kathleen. All this says you're an enduring writer with talent to spread around.
3. I'm also a category writer, (and ST as Kathleen is) and came full circle when a 12-year old category sold surprisingly well, reissued in a new Harlequin program.

Kylie said...

Loved the part about the romance book being too thick to fit into your husband's pocket, LOL. My husband is always the only man on the beach reading one of my books. Until he loans it out to another guy who asks to read it!

I started out reading the 80s romantic historicals but soon found I couldn't stomach the heroines being raped and falling in love with their rapists. Ugh. Still gives me heartburn. But that was a very hot sub-genre at the time.

After getting my MA with two small children at home and working full time, I resolved that I wasn't going to read anything 'intelligent' for a year. Started picking up contemporary series romances at the library and devoured them. I'd had no idea there were contemporary romances out there!

And I discovered something: some of the most articulate intelligent writing I've ever read has come from romance writers. Their insight into the human spirit never fails to inspire me.

From library loaning I went to buying up all the series books I could get each month. And then re-reading those while I waited for the next month's offerings. It wasn't until the early 90s that I got bit by the writing bug, inspired again by all those wonderful authors I'd read.

Since then I've written 25 category books for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, my favorite series line when I was doing all that reading.

My only regret is since I started writing my reading time has decreased. Maybe when I retire...!

Playground Monitor said...

I started reading romance about 7 years ago with category books. That's probably 90% of what I read. I love the shorter length, the focus on the romance, the HEA. Sadly, my favorite line headed in a new direction a year or so ago and became more like the line I don't like to read. So I've had to start looking at other lines, and it so happens I've been reading some Silhouette Specials (and Supers too).

If/When I ever finish writing the book, it will be a category romance.

I haven't been reading them long enough to see major changes (and yeah, your cowboy can cuss as far as I know -- makes him real since when did you ever hear a cowboy say "Aw shucks, darnit! I just busted my doggone finger with this blasted hammer trying to fix that darn fence post?" I have read a few much older categories that I've picked up in thrift stores when they've been by a fave author, and one thing I've noticed for sure is that the bedroom door doesn't close as much. And many times we see past the bathroom door as well.

Love, love, love your story. Leslie Wainger is just a sweetheart. She sat in my living room last December at our RWA Christmas party and joined right in the Dirty Santa game. She also wrote a very nice note in my copy of her "Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies" book.

I'll be looking for your Specials next year.

Marilyn

Kathleen Eagle said...

Kylie, you and me both. I had just finished my MS and had a summer to do something else.

Marilyn, in the old days damn and hell were as cussin' as we could get. When a word slipped between the lips of someone at home, we used to say, "That's not a Silhouette word!"

One change I had to make in SS was that my cowboy couldn't use a hair dryer at the hotel. He had to towel dry. More manly, I was told.

Cindy Gerard said...

Great story, Kathy. Like Kylie I started out reading historicals - blame it on Kathleen Woodwise and Rosemary Rogers. Could Not get enough. Then - woo woo - I found LaVryle Spencer. You knew she was going to come up, didn't you? I wanted to write like her. I didn't know she wrote romance :o) I just knew she wrote wonderful books. I thought my first book was the great American woman's novel - little did I know it was a category romance. That's where I started and that's where I stayed for many many books. I'd probably still be writing category if my editor at Silhouette hadn't rejected my bodyguard proposal which propelled me in another direction.
And let me tell you something else - it was you, Kathy Eagle and Anne McCallister, who turned me on to GREAT category romance and made me want to write to the bars you had set. So - thanks for that!! And mega congrats on your return to category and your upcoming releases!

Helen Brenna said...

Great story, Kathy.

Nope, no full circle here. Have always loved reading most kinds of romance and still do. And I haven't been writing long enuf to have quarter of a circle going, so ...

Yes, your cowboy hero can cuss like a sailor! So can your heroine. LOL

Playground Monitor said...

And it was YOU Cindy Gerard who made me love category and think "Maybe I could write something 1/10th that good." I miss your categories but totally understand heading in new directions. Been there, done that. With the Bodyguards and Black Ops, we still get a great story, and we get the stuff that's not "Silhouette words." ;-)

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, guys! I'm in Minnesota for a few days! And I'm loving this beautiful autumn weather!

Kathy I don't recall every hearing your first sale story before. . . and I've been around a while! I LOVE that your cowboy wanted to fit books into his jeans pockets. Of course, he's a cool guy all the way around. And the fact that he was both inspiration and instigator for your writing career only validates the choices you made way back when.

I'm not "full circle" yet. For me a foray into category romance is a first-- and proving to be a lot of fun. Strangely, it's a short contemporary line--BLAZE-- that bought this "historical" so I have no idea if or where I'll enter it in the Rita. There's no longer a "short historical" category!!

This is a whole new length and pace for me-- I've done novellas (150 page manuscripts) and long historicals (450-500 pg manuscripts!) but never a 250 page story. And of course, the sensuality level is much higher than in my recent books. It remains to be see whether my style of sexy turns readers on or not.

Here's hoping! And Kathleen, I can't wait to see those books on the shelves!

maryc said...

I was introduced to category romances in 1966 by a classmate. At the time, I read every single one. I still read category romances, but now I read them based on the author due to the large number of authors I read in different genres.

I've followed authors who started out in category romances, eg Kathleen Eagle, Cait London, Cindy Gerard, Christie Ridgway, Linda Howard to name a few.

A good read is a good read no matter what category it falls in.

Kathleen Eagle said...

"A good read is a good read." Well said, maryc!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Cait, you've given us a memorable family in the Tallchief series, and I know your readers are waiting for more. New readers will demand those earlier books once they get a taste. That's the neat thing about series. Readers who know what they want return to "their" series every month like clockwork.

About the term "Native American," many tribes have asked newspapers and other media to drop it because it's too vague. If you're born in the USA, aren't you a native American? (Who's going to argue with The Boss?) First preference is the particular tribe. Clyde's nation is Lakota. We generally use Lakota Sioux on cover blurbs because Sioux is generally recognized. But American Indian is the generally accepted term for the indigenous people in the U.S., and it's the term many tribal leaders have formally agreed upon in recent years for the sake of clarity. Native American is still used in academic circles, which is where it was popularized. Mind you, this is what I've observed, and that's all I am--an observer.

catslady said...

In the beginning I think I read any kind of genre I could get my hands on. I was always attracted to historical and never gave it up even when "they" said it wasn't popular. I also like horror (Stephen King) and suspense. Romantic suspense at least combines two genres. I still will read any genre though so I'm thinking I never really changed from my very beginning lol.

my verification word was "snuckle" - I like it lol.

Liza said...

I started reading category/series romance because those were the books my grandmother and her friend bought and gave to my mom. We would have bags of books and I would sit behind the sofa and read them when my mom was finished(I was 10 or 11). I still read some category/series romance, but more single title releases. BTW, I think a cowboy hero can cuss now.

Lori said...

My firstromance read was a Danielle Steel - The Promise. Oh, how I loved that book. I quickly moved on to category - the HP line. Remember when Janet Dailey wrote a book for each state? I read them all. And although I don't read as much category anymore, there are a few lines that I've stayed fairly loyal to, like SSE, Blaze, SIM (what are they calling it now?), HHR, and HSR. Ok, I guess I am still a category reader, LOL! Wow, never realized I still read so many lines so religiously till I listed them out. Guess it's cause you guys still write such good books, huh? Thanks!

Barbara Samuel (aka Ruth Wind) said...

Someday Soon is one of the books that made me realize I wanted to write ROMANCE. It was so richly genuinely Indian and respectful and beautifully written (and it has been a long time, but there is something terrible that happens in it, too, right?) and I recognized that category was a place a person could write amazing things without any real limits, so I slanted my work toward SE.

Not that everyone is as brilliant at it as you are. But it's a good standard to strive toward.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen

I love your stuff - hardcover and category both - and am thrilled to see you're returning to your publishing roots!

Started reading category romance myself when I was experiencing morning-noon-night-and-inbetween sickness and couldn't concentrate on the historical sagas and SF I had been reading, and I've never looked back.

I still turn to categories when I want a fast read, and I firmly believe that many of today's top writers honed their craft writing the shorter - but no less well-developed - length.

I have a list of auto-buy authors for both the library and my personal collection and of course you're on it; mega thanks to your own hero for encouraging you to persevere! The world is much richer for your stories.

LynneW