Romance – It’s a Thing

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a friend from back in my prepublished days.  Back then, we despaired of ever being published.  Now, we’re both published by the same publisher.  Very Cool.  Here’s Erika Kelly with her new debut novel, You Really Got Me.  (And I defy you to read the blog without thinking of those opening five chords and the chorus of the Kinks record by the same name 🙂 )

Thank you, Donna, and the rest of the Romance Bandits, for inviting me to share my release day with your readers! This is a momentous day for me, and I’m so happy to be here with all of you!

Erika Kelly Bio picIn sixth grade Mr. Augenblick wrote on my paper, Do you know what plagiarism is?

The comment gave me a chill. I actually didn’t know about plagiarism. I’d simply answered a homework question with text copied from my grandmother’s encyclopedia. Frankly, I didn’t know much about anything. My brother and I grew up wild on the streets of West Los Angeles. At any point you could find us on the railroad tracks that separated Little and Big Santa Monica Boulevards. We’d climb the A-frame roof of the Century House restaurant in Century City and hang out until the security guards chased us away.

That comment was a game-changer. Once my grandmother saw it, I became her project. Suddenly, my brother and I were attending children’s concerts at UCLA—the classical music series. Gone were the days of filching coins from the paper change cup in the kitchen to buy cheeseburgers at McDonald’s, and in came my grandma’s buckwheat pancakes, kefir, and anything else found at Lindberg Nutrition store.

And, let me tell you, I flowered under her tutelage. She’d sit with me on the couch and read poems and discuss philosophy. Starting with Pamela by Samuel Richardson, moving on to Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, I gorged on the books lining her hallway. Age-appropriate or not, I read them all.Erika Kelly book cover

Meanwhile, I had a secret. Every night I would put myself to bed with my dream sets. You know how kids fight their bed times? Not me. I eagerly pulled on my Lanz nightgown and dove under the covers so I could get back to my latest story. They always involved a boy. And me. And lots of yearning. But it never occurred to me to share my stories with anyone because I DIDN’T KNOW ROMANCE WAS A THING.

Fast forward to my early twenties. After four years of studying both volumes of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, I graduated college and got my first grown-up job. On weekends, my friend and I would take long hikes, and I’d make up stories about the strange sights we’d find along the way. One day she said, You should write a book.

She had no idea the impact of her suggestion. Basically, all the unfocused energy in that wild spirit of mine came to heel with those five simple words. From that moment on, I’d found my calling. And I wrote.

But I DIDN’T KNOW ROMANCE WAS A THING, so I didn’t write the stories in my head. Instead, I wrote time travel and adventure screenplays. I wrote book after book, unaware of genre or marketability. It wasn’t until years later when an editor wrote on my manuscript, Does this author know she writes romance? that I went to the bookstore and found a whole section devoted to the stories I told in my head each night. Holy cow—ROMANCE WAS A THING!

It took a lot of reading—gobbling up books like Rachel Gibson’s Truly Madly Yours, Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s It Had to Be You, and Jenny Crusie’s Fast Women—and countless manuscripts to figure out I was writing a hybrid of women’s fiction and romance. Two different tones in one book didn’t work. But I kept writing, giving the stories in my head better, more marketable plots. Turning them into something I thought someone would want to read. Yeah, still not getting that anyone would ever want to read my stories.

Fast forward to January 2013. I’d written for so long, had piles of rejection letters, and I just wanted writing to be fun again.  Forget the market, forget pleasing agents and editors, I just wanted to write one of my dream sets. And so I did. In three weeks, I wrote a 110,000-word book. I loved it more than anything I’d ever written. Seven months later I sold it.

Here’s the blurb to YOU REALLY GOT ME

The first irresistible novel in a hot new series about a rock star on his way up—and the woman he wants to take all the way…

Emmie Valencia has what it takes to be the music industry’s hottest band manager. She just needs to prove it. Determined to discover a killer new band, Emmie is ready to make her move. First stop: Austin, Texas.

As a sizzling-hot lead singer, Slater Vaughn has no trouble raising heart rates—but his band’s been flat-lining for years. When Emmie, his bandmate’s sister, crashes with them in exchange for some free management, her industry know-how lands them a spot in the biggest music festival in Texas. But it isn’t just her business acumen that catches Slater’s attention. Emmie is sexy and warm, and—for the first time in his life—he wants more.

But as irresistible as Slater is, Emmie is done with musicians. In her experience, a man can’t be a rock star and someone to trust with your heart—but Slater is determined to show her he’s both.

I’m a late bloomer, no doubt. But there’s nothing like finding your calling. Have you found yours? Was it a long process to get there or did you always know what you wanted to do with your life? I’d love to give away signed copies of YOU REALLY GOT ME to two people who share their stories!

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  • Helen says:

    is he coming back to my place and the heat ?

    Have Fun

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Thank you, Helen! That’s all I wanted to be–a mom! And I did that for 24 years. Then, my youngest had the nerve to leave me for college a few months ago. Figured it was a good time to find something else to do with my time!

    • Helen –

      Say what you will – the rooster is arrogant and persnickety, but he’s not dumb. Can you blame him for preferring a warm environment than this cold one? Of course, he’s staying with you 🙂

  • Amy Conley says:

    I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Totally understand, Amy. When I graduated college, my family conferred quietly and worriedly about me because I had no idea what I wanted to do! Some people are gifted with that single-mindedness, the rest of us make our way as best we can!

      • Amy Conley says:

        But Ericka I’m 55, you would think by now I would know. I’d love to write but I don’t know that I have it in me. I also don’t take rejection well. I think one rejection letter and I would just hang it all up. I know there’s self pub, live in such a small area I don’t even have someone to give me feedback that I trust.

        • Erika Kelly says:

          I think most of us react to rejection the same way–it hurts and we want to quit. But if we have stories to tell, we can’t help but come back to the keyboard, determined to get it right! You might consider writing for yourself. Just get words on the page, turn them into something YOU like. And then give it to people to read for feedback. I’ve lived all over the place, and I’ve always found critique groups, whether online, as Donna suggested, or cobbled amongst the few people around who’re writing, too. Good luck with whatever you do!

        • Amy –

          Unfortunately, you will most likely encounter rejection if you write – if not from a publisher, than from a reader determined to give a nasty review. Best get used to it. The best writer in the world can’t please everyone, so give it a go and at least please yourself.

          Can’t buy that “small area” complaint. Most critiques come online these days and you obviously have a computer. RWA has an online chapter especially for people who live in small areas away from a “normal” chapter, plus they’ve started a program to help writers find a critique partner.

          You can do this, and the new year is the best time to try. Good Luck!!

          • Amy Conley says:

            Thank you guys. Right now I’m still trying to get everything taken care of from last year. Believe me, my mother was a pack rat and if we can get through all her things alone, by the end of this year it will be a miracle. And my mil loved “things” you know what I mean, little cachki stuff, dust collectors is what I call them. LOL And we aren’t even going to attempt going through all that til spring, so my plate is pretty full already. I do need something which is “mine”, and if hubby gets me the new computer, I probably will start writing. I already dream scenes, need to get them on paper.

          • Erika Kelly says:

            Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, Amy, but it also sounds like you’re a writer! If you’re dreaming scenes…well, I hope one day you do write them down!

  • Helen says:

    Hi Erika
    Well done and congrats on the release the books sounds really good I need to add this one to me must have list 🙂

    I always wanted to be a Mum and that I got and now I have 7 grandchildren and I have just retired so there is going to be heaps of time to spend with the family and of course more reading time

    Have Fun

    • Congrats on the retirement, Helen. Wishing you good health, lots of time with the grandkids, and, of course, good reading!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      I know how you love your grands, Helen, as I do mine! But I never planned to be a mother. Great irony, huh?

      You know how it is, though: You meet the right guy at the right time and the rest is 7 kids and 16 grands, soon to be 17!

      The best-laid plans. I was luck, though, to marry a man who supported my dream to be a teacher, so I won both ways!

  • Mary Preston says:

    I don’t think I ever had a calling. I seemed to drift from one aspects of my life to another. It’s been an adventure.

    • Hi Mary –

      I think an adventure is the best kind of life. There are certainly many things worse. 🙂

    • Erika Kelly says:

      I agree with Donna, Mary! One of my closest friends has drifted from one adventure to another–but they’re really cool adventures. She used to feel bad that she hadn’t made traction in any one area, but I pointed out that she was Renaissance woman–and that’s a cool thing to be!

  • Fedora says:

    Wow, Erika! I’m totally intrigued by the sounds of your debut and also, enjoyed reading YOUR story–thanks for sharing it!

    As for my calling, I’m getting there 🙂 I’m currently mostly doing the mom thing (which I think I’ve always wanted to do–prekids, I thought I wanted a huge family, and while the reality of having kids has made me rethink the size a bit, I do still love being a mom and sharing life with DH and our kids). I’m also doing some freelance editing, to which I took a long-ish roundabout route (been a lifelong reader, but studied engineering, of all things, in school. Took me a bit of meandering postgraduation to find my way to the kind of editing I’m doing these days). And I’m happy to consider myself a dancer of sorts (totally wanted ballet lessons as a kid; got piano instead, so started ballet when it was offered as a PE option in college… never stopped 😉 )

    I guess it’s never too late to start pursuing your dreams!

    • Fedora –

      Love that you continued to pursue ballet. Did you keep up the piano, or abandon it? I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano. Never desired to do ballet, I haven’t the body for it. Guess which lessons I got as a kid 🙂 . I think my parents thought putting me in a tutu would generate instant grace. ROTFLMAO.

      • Fedora says:

        LOL, Donna! I can still play, but I look at the music I was able to play when I quit and realize how much I would need to practice to be able to play it again 😉 Now we make the kids take lessons in hopes that they’ll get to the point where they enjoy it, at least a little 😉

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Sounds like you and Donna needed to swap parents! I love that you’re developing a career for yourself. I’ve always written and learned my craft, but when I was raising my kids, I was all-in. And now that the youngest has flown the coop (4 months ago), I’m ready to turn this thing I did while they slept or were hanging out with friends into a full-time gig. I’m glad I’ve got something to do now that they’re gone. Maybe editing will become your gig when the kids are launched?

      • Fedora says:

        LOL, Erika! I think Donna and I may have enjoyed those childhood lessons more if we’d swapped 😉 Or not… who knows? And I am thankful now that I can play the piano 😀

        As for the editing, I’m so thankful for the work I have so far–I’ve been able to fit it into the free time I have, and I am grateful this is a situation where I can take on more work as I have more time 🙂 I’m glad that you’ve got the time now to pursue your writing wholeheartedly! Can’t wait to read your hard work!

        • Erika Kelly says:

          Thank you, Fedora. I’m so glad it’s worked out the way I’d hoped. Steadily writing and learning craft so that I could launch my career once I had no one to make dinner for other than my husband. And, no, he’s not interested in hearing–get your own dinner!

          Editing is perfect–you can take on as many or as few projects as fit your life. You can do it anywhere! Good for you!

    • Jo Robertson says:

      It’s never too late, Fedora. I have a teacher-friend who began tap dancing in her fifties. She’s now in her eighties — YES!! — and still with her dancing/performing group.

  • Shannon says:

    I’m 54, and I’ve grown up as a research and writer for a large agency here in DC. I’m looking for another job from time to time, but I cannot imagine what else I would do.

    A friend of mine talks about life being three acts: young adult, middle-age, and mature adult. She argues that you have to change your goals at each stage, and she’s suggested that I look around and consider things. My negative mind says that I cannot do creative things.

    My photography is about pretty things: creeks, flowers, and stairs. It’s not art that captures meaning.

    As you know from my posts, I cannot spell and punctuate and proofread very well without my editors, so as much as I would like to write (and I’ve tried off and on since 1995) I cannot see myself doing that. But with my friend’s pushing, I have signed up for some on-line courses on writing at $25 each. I even did my first assignment yesterday.

    If that doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll become a reader/reviewer. The thing is that I can be negative about myself, but I don’t like writing critical reviews. I did write one about a book that dropped plot lines frustrating the heck out of me and was full of typos, but I figured karma would come back and bite.

    • Erika Kelly says:

      I love your friend’s view of life, and I certainly agree with her. I’ve just ended that middle phase, raising my family, and now I’m entering the mature phase. The thing is with photography or any art–doesn’t the meaning come from the person observing it? I’ll bet if you showed any of the great writers of our time literary analysis about their work they’d either laugh or shake their heads. It’s unlikely they set out considering theme, motif, symbolism, you know? I also think if you want to write, you shouldn’t worry so much about the technical stuff–punctuation and grammar is the easy stuff to learn and fix as you go along. I say go for it! Whether photography or writing, just go for it. The longer you stick with something the more proficient you become!

    • Mature? There’s a mature stage? 🙂

      Shannon – I think Erika is right. I know many artists who paint flowers, creeks and stairs. Why is photography different? Then again, in my photojournalist class in college, I took this really cool picture of a brick alley where the bricks clashed in an interesting pattern. It was black and white which made it more striking. The prof took one look and said – put a body in it. That’s what I of now when I take or paint a picture. Where’s the body? 🙂

      My spelling seems to get worse and worse, and I could never punctuate worth a darn – but that’s probably the most insignificant thing about writing. Editors will correct those shortcomings, but no one can “correct” your imagination. As long as you love what you do – that’s the important thing.

  • Maureen says:

    Congratulations to Erika on fulfilling her dreams. I have found that raising a family has brought me much happiness.

  • Sharon says:

    I preordered this book after reading the awesome RT review! I saw that Amazon shipped it today. I can’t wait to read it!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Hi, Erika, I love your journey story! Thanks for sharing with us.

    I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, worked hard, and finally did just that. Finally, I decided I wanted to do something else, and yep, it was writing. So I took an early retirement and the rest is history.

    Your book sounds delicious. Good luck!

  • Erika Kelly says:

    You’re blessed, then, Jo, to have two fulfilling careers in your lifetime! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Jamie says:

    Good luck on your release today! I’m going to race to the bookstore myself soon to buy YOU REALLY GOT ME!!

    As for me, I knew my calling pretty early. I’m still only in college, but I’ve interned for publishers and I know I want to be an editor,

    Congratulations, Erika, and thank you for sharing your wonderful story!

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Thank you, Jamie! You know, my daughter’s just like you. She’s a freshman in college and already knows she wants to be an editor. She worked for a romance editor at a big house at the end of her senior year of high school and loved every aspect of it. The editor was kind enough to include her in all the meetings, so she really had a sense of the job. It must be nice to know what you want to do–I certainly didn’t!

      • Fedora says:

        That is SO cool, Erika! I’m a little envious of her confidence and the path she’s enjoyed so far! Glad she’s found what she loves and that she’s found some guidance for the way already!

        • Erika Kelly says:

          It is cool, isn’t it? I didn’t have a clue what I wanted when I was in college (or after!). But what I love best is that she had the idea she wanted to be an editor–and then confirmed it when she worked for one. She loved it!

  • Karin Shah says:

    Congratulations on your debut, Erika! It sounds hot! I loved hearing your story. I always knew Romance was a thing. I just didn’t think it was a thing it was ok to do. Four years of English as a writing art at college and then grad school for Library and Information studies and all the messages I got about non-literary fiction, especially Romance, were negative. But I never stopped reading it! And like you, I would “write” in my head at night. Putting myself into the starring role. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to write full time (well, when the kids were occupied) And when people ask me what I do, I muscle past the snobby, apologist, inside voice (who’s wrong anyway!) and say, “I write Romance novels.”:-)

  • Erika Kelly says:

    I’m right with you, Karin. I wish I’d had friends or family who’d read it, but it makes me all the more grateful for RWA. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one spinning romantic stories in my head at night!

  • Kim says:

    Congratulations on your debut. The music setting sounds like an interesting backdrop.

  • Jodi S. says:

    Congrats on your debut! I’ve wanted to be several different things in my life. Right now, I’m a mom, Girl Scout leader, volleyball mom and soccer mom. I’m not sure that I have time for much more even though I still want more! lol

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Jodi, I had three kids in year-round volleyball, and I traveled with all of them (figured out that was the way to stay close to my teens), but I also managed my writing life in the early morning hours when they slept–which, believe me, affords lots of time with young adults who sleep until afternoon! Maybe you can try out a few things, see what sparks your interest, and then devote yourself to it in your personal time (however limited!). Then, you’ll be ready to launch into the next phase when the kids go off.

    • Hi Jodi –

      Erika’s right. As a former Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, soccer mom, football mom – those kids demand a lot of your time – but it’s great because it allows you to explore so many new things. Now that my kids are adults, I miss watching on the sidelines, or taking them on trips for scouts. I wrote while I was waiting for the TaiKwanDo class to be over, or waiting for football practice to end. Explore a variety of things to see what suits you, then look for little ways to work it into your life.

  • catslady says:

    I realize writing is a business but when I hear an author say I wrote what was in my heart or I wrote what I wanted to write, I get very excited because those can be the best books ever! I love debut books!

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    HI Erika! Welcome to the Bandit Lair!! And congrats on your debut. The premise is really cool.

    I confess I had to LOL because for the longest time I didn’t know Romance was a “thing” either! Ha!

    As to finding your joy, I’ve got it, writing what I love to write, so I totally recognize that in your post. Congrats and may you long love the writing!!

    • Erika Kelly says:

      I haven’t met many people who didn’t know about romance–it IS a billion dollar industry!–so I’m glad to know I’m not alone. But it’s been awfully fun making up for all that lost time! Thank you for commenting, Jeanne!

  • There is nothing I didn’t love about You Really Got Me – and I am so, so, so, so thrilled for you. Congratulations on a wonderful book!

  • Robin Gianna says:

    Congratulations on your debut, Erika! It sounds wonderful! You’re definitely not the only late-bloomer – I’m right there with you, having gotten my first publishing contract in 2013 after nine years of writing. Who knew it would be so hard?

    I have kids in college, too – one uncertain what he wants to do. I recently read something I thought was inspired – that we shouldn’t tell our kids to “find their passion” as though they should have only one. We should tell them to follow their curiosity, explore things of interest to them even if there are a dozen or more things. I’ve done that with many things in my life, and it’s definitely richer for it, and hope my kids’ will be also. 🙂

    Best of luck with your debut!

    • Hi Robin!
      I sort of like the British system where they test you at the end of high school and tell you what your strengths lead you to. Somehow I doubt they would have said I should be a romance writer. 🙂 🙂 I like your suggestion that people can have more than one passion and let each person discover their own.

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Glad to hear I’m not the only late-bloomer. I really don’t mind–I like to savor the good things, so I never really feel in a rush to get anywhere. Including publishing–I don’t mind that it came a little later for me.

      I DID talk to my kids a lot about finding their passion–but I call it their “good work.” I just feel like we are healthier in mind and body, more satisfied when we’re doing the work we love. Without it, I think we get into trouble–best to keep our minds busy with the work we find the most satisfying.

  • Congrats, Erika! I am always thrilled to read when someone’s dream comes true!

    I decided when I was nine years old I wanted to be a romance writer. ( I blame it on Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy!) But then my musical talent was discovered and writing went by the wayside. I spent the next twenty years preparing for a career as a professional opera singer. I was definitely a late bloomer as few opera singers, especially sopranos, make their debut at the age of twenty-nine, but I did it. I had a blast and my voice took me all over Europe.

    Fast forward to seven years ago, retired from opera, taking some rough knocks in life and I remembered my romance writing aspirations. December 1st my first published work went live in a Christmas anthology on Amazon and I am living my second dream! I’m still looking for a traditional publisher to take me on, but I’ve decided to show ’em what I’ve got and hope they decide I’ve got what it takes to be a hybrid author!

    Your book premise sounds terrific and I can’t wait to read it!

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Wow, Louisa, what an accomplished woman you are–and what a life you’ve led. I wonder if you set your stories in the world of opera. Now that would be unique and interesting!

  • Erika Kelly says:

    Thank you Donna and the Romance Bandits for hosting me on this wildly special day–a girl only gets a debut release day once in her life!

  • Erika, welcome to the Lair and congrats on your debut! I’m so glad you glommed onto romance being a “thing.” *g*

  • Mozette says:

    Welcome, Erika and congrats on your first novel! You’re doing better than I am right now; and I’ve been writing… well… hmmm… as long as I can remember… 😀

    The very first time I knew I wanted to be a writer the teacher was showing us how to write our names. I already knew how to read at a grade 2 level (as I taught myself to read aged 4 – this is what happens when you’ve got a chronic illness and you try to escape it 😛 ). I thought I was only being shown half the plate in the writing world; there had to be more to it… this writing thing.

    Then, I wrote my name – slow, scribbley prose – but it was my name. Then, I put in a comma and added in ‘and I have red hair.’ The teacher came along and crossed out the last bit saying, “No, Lynda that’s wrong.” I knew I was right, so I wrote it again when she walked away. She came back and crossed it out again telling me quietly that we’re not up to that yet and stop going on ahead.

    It was then I knew I was being shown the other side of the plate… the rest of what I’d be chasing for the rest of my life: how to be a writer. I love to write. It’s challenging, upsetting, horrible, sad, loving, happy and something that keeps me awake a lot of the nights of the year… but I love to write books, novellas, poetry and flash fiction… it’s a passion I have had since I was 5 years old.

    I know nothing else to be. 🙂

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Some teachers have such an impact on our lives–yours didn’t understand the creative soul. I’m glad she didn’t stifle yours. I agree that writing is all those things–and it’s probably made us stronger people to have lived and worked through all those challenges and still come out fighting and creating. Lovely post, thank you.

  • Jodelle Brohard says:

    Your story was very inspiring. Especially since I’ve been writing forever myself, with very little success. Still I know it’s what I want to do so I’m going to keep on writing.

    I can’t wait wait to read your debut book. It sounds really good.

    • Erika Kelly says:

      I hope you do keep writing, Jodelle. I have enough rejection letters to wallpaper my house–and yours–and your neighbor’s, too, probably–but you’ll only have a shot at success if you never quit. I think for me, the key is in writing because I love it so much and not because I’ve ever needed to see my name on the cover of a book. And I never want to lose that love because I let the business side pull me under.

  • Great post, Donna and Erika. I’m a firm believer in better late than never. Congrats on your book release and finding the joy in writing.

    • Erika Kelly says:

      Yes, I agree, Trish. It’s never too late to do anything–no matter what phase of life we’re in or how old we get, we still need to be creating, working, producing. Thank you!