I’ll be honest with you: I used to be one of those literary snobs who sneered at romance novels. I rolled my eyes at my romance-addicted friends and looked down my nose at those windblown heroines clutched in Fabio’s arms for years before I realized how much fun they really are. And here’s a double helping of irony: I used to tell everyone that my favorite author was Jane Austen, completely oblivious to the fact that her books are romances, and in fact, laid the groundwork for much of the modern romance novel: classic love stories complete with winning heroines, dashing heroes, painful misunderstandings, and—always—a happy ever after.
I’d been editing romance novels for several years before I decided to give writing one a try. Most of the romances I worked on were light, breezy books, with simple plots, likable characters, and the occasional sex scene.
I could write one of these, I thought. How hard could it be?
Wanderlust, my first novel, was born as a short story that developed quickly in my mind and was easily committed to paper. I was proud of the story, but it didn’t have the requisite happy ending; after the hero, Jason, screws up big time, he and the heroine go their separate ways at college graduation, and he’s left with nothing but a diploma and deep regrets.
Obviously, there had to be more to the story than that. Without too much trouble, I was able to expand the story into the first five chapters of the novel, allowing the heroine, Monica, more scope and voice. I knew what was going to happen next—they’d meet again, of course, and sparks would be rekindled—but I realized I didn’t really have a plan after that. How could I show readers—and the heroine—that the hero was a reformed character and get them to a happy ending while maintaining enough tension to keep things interesting for another 30-40,000 words?
I gotta tell you, it was harder than I thought.
I was helped out by the supporting cast, characters who had been floating around in my mind since the story had started to take shape. There was Chip, Jason’s best friend, a no-nonsense guy who’d tell you exactly what he thought of you (Chip, btw, has about half of his own novel written). There was Amber, Monica’s rival for Jason’s affections. I wanted her to have a bit more dimension than simply being the Sexy Other Woman. And finally there was Stephen, Monica’s handsome, wealthy and very gay best friend.
In the end, it was Stephen who really brought the book together. His conversations with Monica, fast-paced and flippant though they are, allowed me to get a deeper grasp of her insecurities and desires, and those in turn lead to more meaningful encounters between her and Jason. Stephen also provided the perfect romantic foil; Jason naturally sees Stephen as his rival for Monica and the resulting misunderstandings keep the plot moving.
It took me much longer to write Wanderlust than I thought it would, and I gained new respect for the authors who could keep coming up with one book after another. I learned enough that my second novel, Asking Angelina, went a bit faster, and it’s my hope that my third novel, Robinson Charlotte, will be out sometime this summer.
I no longer look down my nose at romances and I certainly don’t take the ability to write them for granted. I’ve been humbled, in the best possible way, by both the reading and the writing of them, and look forward to doing more of both.
PS. Jane Austen is still my favorite author.
Here is an excerpt from Wanderlust. I hope you enjoy it!
She picked up her cup and took a sip of her mocha. I was about to make a joke about how at least she was still left-handed—some things don’t change—and I glanced reflexively at her hand. The room seemed to give a weird lurch that made my stomach roll over, but I pulled myself together.
“Hey, congratulations! Who’s the lucky guy?” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
She looked at me blankly. I looked significantly at her left hand. She put the cup down and looked at the ring, as if she were surprised to see it.
It was beautiful. An enormous, square-cut emerald, surrounded by tiny diamonds. A knock-out of a ring that might have cost as much as I made in several months. A big, goofy smile spread over her face as she looked down at it. “Oh! This is—it’s kind of a long story, actually—”
The bells on the coffee shop door rang again, and an elegantly dressed woman who looked to be in her early forties walked in.
“Oh, there’s my client,” said Monica, waving to the woman. “I’m going to have to–”
“No worries, I’ll get out of your way,” I said, getting up. I took a deep breath. “Look, can I get your number? I don’t want to be inappropriate, I know you’re engaged and all, but I’d love to catch up with you properly sometime.”
She gave me a quick glance that conveyed her hesitation, but to my relief she nodded.
“Yeah. Yes, I’d like that, too,” she said, fumbling in the pocket of her backpack again. “My business cards are in here somewhere—” She gave up, clearly in a hurry to get rid of me. “You know what, I’m on Facebook, Monica Prescott. I have a page called Adventuress Travels.”
“Adventuress Travels,” I repeated. “And it’s not like I’ve forgotten your name.” I grinned. “I’ll message you. Great to see you!” I leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. I grabbed my coffee and smiled briefly at the elegant woman, who gave me an appraising look as I passed her.
“Who was that?” I heard the woman ask Monica as she sat down.|
Monica’s reply made its way to me across the coffee shop as I made my way out the door and back into the bitter wind.
“No one. Just someone I knew in college.”
Sometime in 2012, Sarah Barbour decided it was time to put her English degree to use and began working as a freelance editor. Since then, she’s worked with scads of self-publishing authors as an editor and book coach. Sarah is the author of several books herself, including two fiction books under the pen name Thea Dawson. Her third Thea Dawson book will be coming out this summer.
Sarah lives in the Pacific Northwest with her three children and husband/salsa partner.