I wrote my first book without allowing myself to think too hard about it.
As is true when flipping a pancake, any hesitation would have created a mess. In this case, the mess would have been me sitting paralyzed in front of my computer, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing and giving up before I’d even started. So I didn’t contemplate or plan. I just charged ahead. And within two months, I’d reached 90,000 words. I did so in a happy haze, with the laughably mistaken impression I’d created a sellable manuscript.
With my second book—Broken Resolutions, the first in the Lovestruck Librarians series—I worked differently. The Romance Writers of America conference had revealed my first book’s flaws to me, and so I set myself a challenge for the next one. Real plot. Real conflict. Broken Resolutions, despite its limitations, had both. And to my shock, it sold.
As it turned out, I enjoyed setting myself a specific, clearly articulated task for each book I wrote. So when I started My Reckless Valentine, the second Lovestruck Librarians book, I laid out a new challenge: I wanted to take a heroine who’d made impulsive, self-destructive decisions and build reader sympathy for her. By the end of the book, I wanted readers to understand the roots of Angie’s rebellion and love her despite her flaws.
Romance readers can be hard on our heroines. If she’s too perfect, we call her a Mary Sue. If she makes too many mistakes, we call her TSTL—too stupid to live. While writing My Reckless Valentine, I knew I’d be courting the latter description if I wasn’t careful. And sure enough, early readers hesitated over Angie’s character in the first few chapters.
“She created an erotica display. In a public library. Of course she got in trouble. Having trouble sympathizing with her, even though she’s funny,” one said. My critique partner used the dreaded acronym: TSTL. I cringed. But I also doubled down, determined to change their minds by the end of the book.
Here’s why: I’ve made some damn stupid decisions in my life. I’ve hobbled myself and sabotaged my own happiness and remained blind to the obvious.
I’m not dumb, though. I’m not a bad person. I made my mistakes for a reason. And I still deserve love.
So did Angie. So do all of us.
When my critique partner finished the book and told me how much she loved Angie, I almost cried with happiness. To this day, Angie is still her favorite heroine. Because Angie’s fun and funny. Because she’s fiercely loyal and intelligent. And, I’d argue, because she’s genuinely flawed.
I set myself different challenges for my next books. But My Reckless Valentine will always hold a special place in my heart, because Angie does too. And I hope if you read her story, you’ll agree: She’s not a Mary Sue. She’s not TSTL. She’s like all of us: imperfect—but lovable all the same.
MY RECKLESS VALENTINE
TEMPTATION FROM A TO Z
Library manager Angie Burrowes is in trouble again. Her superiors have never approved of her unconventional methods, but the latest warning is serious—another complaint from the administration or a patron, and she’s fired. With a steamy Valentine’s Day contest to conceal and her career on the line, the last thing Angie needs is a near-accident while driving home. At least, until she meets the tall, dark, and sexy stranger responsible for her very own spicy plot twist…
Straight-laced Grant Peterson has only one thing on his mind: making a good impression as the new Director of Branch Services at the Nice County Public Library. On the eve of his first day, however, a lusty encounter with Angie unleashes a desire unlike any he’s ever known. Their tryst may be one for the record books, but when he learns he’s Angie’s new boss, will Grant need to check out on love?
While I was growing up, my mother kept a stack of books hidden in her closet. She told me I couldn’t read them. So, naturally, whenever she left me alone for any length of time, I took them out and flipped through them. Those books raised quite a few questions in my prepubescent brain. Namely: 1) Why were there so many pirates? 2) Where did all the throbbing come from? 3) What was a “manhood”? 4) And why did the hero and heroine seem overcome by images of waves and fireworks every few pages, especially after an episode of mysterious throbbing in the hero’s manhood?
Thirty or so years later, I have a few answers. 1) Because my mom apparently fancied pirates at that time. Now she hoards romances involving cowboys and babies. If a book cover features a shirtless man in a Stetson cradling an infant, her ovaries basically explode and her credit card emerges. I have a similar reaction to romances involving spinsters, governesses, and librarians. 2) His manhood. Also, her womanhood. 3) It’s his “hard length,” sometimes compared in terms of rigidity to iron. I prefer to use other names for it in my own writing. However, I am not picky when it comes to descriptions of iron-hard lengths. At least in romances. 4) Because explaining how an orgasm feels can prove difficult. Or maybe the couples all had sex on New Year’s Eve at Cancun.
During those thirty years, I accomplished a few things. I graduated from Wake Forest University and earned my M.A. in American History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked at a variety of jobs that required me to bury my bawdiness and potty mouth under a demure exterior: costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, high school teacher, and librarian. But I always, always read romances. Funny, filthy, sweet–it didn’t matter. I loved them all.
Now I’m writing my own romances with the encouragement of my husband and daughter. I found a kick-ass agent: Jessica Alvarez from Bookends, LLC. I have my own stack of books in my closet that I’d rather my daughter not read, at least not for a few years. I can swear whenever I want, except around said daughter. And I get to spend all day writing about love and iron-hard lengths.
So thank you, Mom, for perving so hard on pirates during my childhood. I owe you.
Twitter handle: @OliviaWrites
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