Happy New Year, dear readers. With the holidays now past, we look ahead to the new year in front of us, full of new chances, and endless possibilities. I would add “or a blank and empty wasteland,” but, for romance readers, apart from postapocalyptic romance (of which there are some extremely good examples) that’s usually not the case. Romance always promises a happy ending, but what about those beginnings, hm?
Every author wrote a first book once. Even the most seasoned veterans -you know the ones, with their name in a special proprietary font, above and bigger than the title, the back cover their picture alone, because what else needs to be said?- once sat in front of a computer screen, blinking at the cursor they were absolutely sure was mocking them. Maybe it goes farther back than that, or the author prefers a different method of work. Maybe they blinked at the blinding whiteness of the new sheet of paper they fed into the typewriter, once upon a time. Maybe they blink at the yellow legal pad, or fancy notebook, or back of the gas bill envelope, and tap the tip of their ballpoint pen against the paper, wondering when they’re going to know exactly what they are doing.
Ten, twenty, fifty, or even more books later, some of them may still go through that same process, that same moment of doubt, when they start a new book. Will the magic still be there? Will the readers still be there? Will the market change between the time they start the book and the time they finish it? (Probably.) Should they try going in a new direction, when they’re always known for one particular thing? They’ve always written hot contemporaries, for example, but there’s an Amish story that won’t go away, milling about their brain. Is it worth risking the brand they’ve built, to try something new? If they go ahead, should they use the same name as their established work, or begin all over again? Can they do both at once? Does the new direction mean they have to walk away from the old? Does it mean, in some cases, that they get to put to bed something that no longer works for them, and venture out with a spring in their steps?
There’s no way to know for sure, unless the author says so outright, but any creative field is an ever-changing organism, and writing is no different. Sometimes, an author has done everything they wanted to do in a certain venue. Maybe they had a series about five billionaire rancher brothers, which readers ate like popcorn, and now, well, all five brothers found love. The tale is told. The ranch was saved, or sold, or passed to another branch of the family tree. Maybe they blew it up rather than sell out to their archenemy (and hey, if they took out said archenemy along with it, all the better, am I right?) So, what else is there to do, once the happily ever after has been reached?
One would assume the author has earned a bit of a rest, time to refill the creative well and come back to the drawing board (or laptop, or legal pad, et cetera) with the seeds of something new. Some writers take this as the chance to splash around in the shallows, throw two characters that seem fun, onto the page, let them do their thing, and see who comes along to join them. Maybe it’s billionaire sisters this time (might be a nice change of pace, who knows?) or the first couple is (gasp) mature, and the subsequent books follow the love lives of their adult children. Maybe, this time, it’s teens or young adults. Maybe it’s vampires, or time travelers, or the ancestors of the billionaire brothers, and we join them as they make their way to what will become the family homestead, from the old country, and find out why they left.
There’s rather a lot of that in romance fiction, that leaving the place one has always known, and striking out into what comes next. Think of all the historical heroines who go straight from their parents’ homes, to their husband’s, or those who say nuts to all that and charge off into parts unknown. They may not know what lies ahead of them, but one thing’s for sure – they are not staying where they are.
That’s also what drives a lot of our favorite writers to first put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. They had no way of knowing whether the story they told would find a home, not only with a publisher or agent, but with readers, as well. Did they know, when they started with their own very first once upon a time, that this story would be the reason another writer, whom they had never met, would want to write romance, themselves? Or that a reader who had never picked up a romance novel before, would become a devoted fan of the genre, by chapter three? That the love story they wrote would inspire a reader to dig deeper into the historical setting, and learn more about Regency England, or Ancient Rome, or the Boer War? Unless they’re psychic, or time travelers (or psychic time travelers; are those a thing?) there’s no way for them to know, but what they do know is that the story is inside them, and it has to be told.
So, they begin. They write a word, then another, then another after that. Characters take the stage. They move about, invite the reader to climb inside their skins and see the world through different eyes. They hold out their hands and invite us to dance. We may hesitate, for only a moment, or we may take their hand, our movements eager and quick. Wherever they may take us, we know this can only end well.
So, dear readers, I hand it now over to you. What do you think of when it comes to new beginnings and romance fiction? Have you read the first book your favorite author ever wrote? Was it the first one published, or did something later come first? How do the two compare, in your eyes? Have you ever followed a favorite writer to a new series or subgenere, or a new genre, entirely? If so, how did that go? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. If the whole idea of new beginnings is far too much when you’re still not over New Year’s, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.