In our newest column in RT Book Reviews magazine, "Once Upon A Romantic Times," we take a look back at early issues of RT and dig deep into our archives to bring you classic stories about some of romance's earliest pioneers. In our February 2013 issue, we took a trip down memory lane with author Diana Palmer. Today, we bring you a special treat from one of the earliest issues of RT. From the January-February 1982 issue of Romantic Times, Issue #4, Diana Palmer's article, "Behind the Story," about how she got her start as a romance author.
Fifteen years ago, I was a skinny brunette with delusions of working as a legal secretary, and every so often I confessed to a client, “I want to be a writer someday.” Now, 15 tears later, I am a fat brunette working as a newspaper reporter, and it embarrasses me when people tell me they’ve read one of my books.
Ten of them have recently been published by McFadden Paperback Romances, and I recently signed my first contract with Simon & Schuster for a Silhouette Romance titled September Morning. To me, that’s like climbing Mt. Everest barefooted and still reaching the top without frostbite. No small feat for the granddaughter of a Southwest Georgia dirt farmer, and I didn’t “know anybody” in publishing — a small voice pipes up occasionally to mention that you can’t possibly sell your first book when you’re unknown. Bull. The finest people in the world are in publishing, and they do care about beginning writers. They must, or how would I have ever made it into print?
It all started for me two years ago when I read my first romantic novel and decided that since my westerns, mysteries and science fiction novels had all been rejected at least twice, I might find a home in romance. I took a few months and read over 500 of the delicious volumes, and then I sat down and wrote one. After glancing through my two file folders of rejection slips — enough to wallpaper a moderately furnished living room — I had second thoughts about mailing it, so I stuck it in the closet and went back to covering county commission meetings and getting out publicity for the heart association. That was when my friend Ann glared at me and asked who was going to read a manuscript stuck in a closet. I replied that there might be a passionate mouse in there ... She dared me to send it off to a publisher. I told her I couldn’t stand one more rejection slip. She said she’d mail the manuscript and even open the package when it came back, and if I got rejected, she wouldn’t tell me! It sounded so sensible, I did it. I let her mail it. And then I tried my best to forget that I had.
About a month later, my husband called me in from my garden, and I trudged through the house with mud up to my ankles to answer the phone. It was a real, live editor named Anne from McFadden, and she liked my book. It was a good thing I was sitting down at the time. She asked me to send the rest of the book, I did and she called back a week later and bought it. I was at the office, mailing out papers with Ann, when the call came, and my co-workers almost went through the roof. Gee, Ann said, now I know a real author. Oh? I replied in a daze, who?
I wrote ten books for McFadden, which Anne polished so beautifully that they came out better than when I started. I learned to plot, I learned self-discipline and when I got pregnant between the second and fourth books, I learned how to write with morning sickness. Just after baby was born, the gang at McFadden sent me a T-shirt with their logo, and I got some strange looks from the nurses who didn’t know I did anything besides newspaper reporting.
I wound up at Simon & Schuster — a dream of mine since I started writing when I was 18 years old, and the editorial staff there is just as nice to work with as the staff at McFadden was. People in publishing are tremendously supportive, and so kind; it’s very much like newspaper work except that book publishers don’t expect you to take a camera out at midnight to take pictures of a burning building.
Book writing and newspaper writing are similar in one respect — they both call for research, accuracy and attention to details. I have reference files on some of the craziest subjects; things like cattle ranching, economics, community profiles, airplane specs, aerial maps, languages, Western history, and even international motel accommodations. All these things come in handy when I send a character out into the world. I buy fashion magazines, architectural journals and society magazines, because they help me picture what I’m writing about. I also have resource people — experts in many fields who are willing to help me out when I need a morsel of data that I don’t have time to look for. That’s where being a full-time reporter is a distinct advantage.
Organization is another big part of writing. I write for a weekly newspaper 40 hours a week, I string for a nearby daily newspaper, keep house for my husband and enjoy being a mama to my 9-month-old son. Managing all that, and writing books too, means a time budget. Most of my writing comes when baby goes to sleep, and on weekends. I do ten pages a night, every night, when I’m working on a book, and I don’t wait until the mood strikes. I do straight manuscript, no rough draft, and a scene-by-scene outline before I even start. I do some rewriting, but not a great deal. I like to have at least a month per book, but I can and have done one in two weeks by pulling out all the stops and managing at least 30 pages a day, and 50 per day on weekends. Without my extraordinary husband — the sexiest man I know — and my equally extraordinary boss at work — a lady editor whose accomplishments make mine insignificant — I would still be sitting in that law office doing my impression of a skinny brunette. My parents, my sister, my boss, my husband, my friends, my editors — they all believed in min when I didn’t even believe in myself. If I can lay claim to any talent as a writer, it’s because of them. How wonderful to have the privilege of loving the work I do, when so many people in the world work at jobs they hate because they have to.
I especially like writing romances. I believe love is the most powerful force of all, and the most beautiful. It brings all the emotions into play, which creates drama, and drama makes a book exciting to read. I enjoy reading romances because I get caught up in them, and for a little while I can forget my own problems and drift away. I like to think my books can do that for other people. If they do, it makes it all worthwhile.
- Diana Palmer