Once I realized people wrote books—they did not just magically appear on my childhood bookshelves—I knew I wanted to be one of them, but no one I knew wrote for a living. As I had no idea how authors came to be, I looked to books for information and inspiration.
At a used bookstore, I came across No Orchids by Request and Sweet are the Ways by Essie Summers. These books are delightful stories about heroines who are writers, one at a newspaper and the other a copy editor and freelance writer until her first two books are published.
Through fictional and fortuitous fate, they each end up moving to cottages where they could write—my dream life! The newspaper writer is given a cottage by a family friend. The author buys her cottage. She also describes her writing routine and the dedication it takes to become published.
There are more writers in other Essie Summers' books: In Daughter of the Misty Gorges and So Comes Tomorrow the leads are all authors; in Season of Forgetfulness, he is the author, she works for a publishing firm; and in My Lady of the Fuchsias, she writes, he illustrates. Other books with writing characters include The Kindled Fire, Goblin Hill, Through All the Years, Where No Roads Go, and Beyond the Foothills (my favorite).
Extended families, including three or four generations, are central to these novels. A majority of the characters are voracious readers. Books are almost characters, too, sitting and stacked in most rooms. The adults read aloud to children in front of fireplaces and quote favorite writers in conversations. These are charming romances with enough reality and conflict to keep readers engaged.
Settings include working sheep stations, nearby lakes and mountains, picturesque villages, and cities like Christchurch. Essie Summers' beloved New Zealand becomes a travel destination for her readers.
Now I knew it was possible to be an author because even though these characters were not real, they lived writing lives as did Ms. Summers who wrote and jotted all her life, but, due to family responsibilities, was "late" to the publishing world. However, she still wrote 56 books starting when she was 45, as well as an autobiography, The Essie Summers' Story. She wrote for Mills & Boon starting in the 1950s then later for Harlequin.
Romance publishers have provided woman writers opportunities they never would have had otherwise. The early authors were well educated and good, solid writers. True, there are romance novels that are not well-written or well-plotted, but there are also a great many fantastic ones.
While romance novels are not held in high regard by some people, consider that women buy the majority of books and the majority of them can be classified as romances. It's not a genre to be overlooked or mocked.
As one Essie Summers' hero says to the heroine when he discovers she writes romances, "I don't know that I have anything against love."
I know I don't.
What novels helped you see how authors live and work?