I'm the fortunate recipient of an immense amount of both kindness and luck in my publishing journey. I'm not saying I haven't worked really hard and rethought every single word of every single draft of every single story I've written. I'm just saying I'm reaping rewards that go way beyond my own efforts. Here's how:
My debut novel "Curves for Days" comes out on August 22, 2023, just under five months from now, almost seven years after I wrote the first draft of the story. My life has changed a lot in that time, mostly for the better, and most of the improvements are due to the people I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with. This is a story about them.
After I wrote my first novel-length manuscript and realized that that was something I could actually do, I started looking around for ways to make my writing better, with an eye to someday trying to get published. I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA), which was at the time a large and powerful organization, and a couple of its subchapters, including Carolina Romance Writers (CRW). This was before the pandemic, and CRW held monthly meetings at restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina, about an hour from my home. We’d have lunch, talk, share news, and often have a guest speaker. One month the speaker was Laura Drake, whose lovely emotional roller coaster of a novel “The Sweet Spot” had won an RWA award for Best First Book. She talked to us about using tiny clues and humor to ramp up characterization and add to the gut-punch of a story.
Because I had the great good fortune to choose the right table to sit at, I got to have a personal conversation with Laura over our meal. That changed my life. I’d been struggling with empty-nest syndrome at home and unhealthy levels of burn-out at work and had been feeling like I was spending all my time doing a job I’d come to dread, just so I could afford the payments on a house that was now too big, when my son had fallen in love with a city 1,100 miles away and was never going to move back to the Carolinas.
Laura told me about some of the adventures of her life, including a spontaneous cross-country move with her beloved sister, and how she had met her husband and become a motorcyclist. She said, “If you don’t take a chance, you’ll never know what you can do.” I’d heard similar words before, but this time they hit me right where and when I needed them. I went home, figured out a plan, put it into action, and the following year I packed up my own little car for my own cross-country move, and now I am my own boss, living VERY frugally, doing the writing I love, thanks to the kindness of a lovely stranger who shares my name (Since that meeting, I have read and collected her books. I highly recommend them. She’s smart, funny, and can pack a scene with more poignance than anyone I know (I'm really looking forward to her newest release, "Amazing Gracie," coming in April 2023.)
About the same time I met Laura Drake, I happened to pick up a book called "Carolina Dreaming," by Virginia Kantra. I’d read others from her Dare Island, NC series, but "Carolina Dreaming" is my favorite. In the story, one character mentions to another a series of romance novels about Navy Seals. That caught my attention; I didn’t know if there really was such a series, but it sounded fun, so I Googled it, and that led me to the work of Suzanne Brockmann.
One of my favorite things in the world is to find a new-to-me author whose stories I love…and then to learn that they have a big backlist for me to binge on. That was the case with Suzanne Brockmann. I worked my way through her Troubleshooters and Tall, Dark, and Dangerous series, and then through her older stand-alones as well. I liked them enough that I knew I’d want to reread them, so I started collecting them. When I lost most of my Brockmann collection in a big move, I started buying them again, and my collection is now almost complete again.
There are many things I love about her stories. One is that I know for a fact that her women characters will be smart and resourceful—qualities I appreciate and, okay, require after reading too many older books with helpless heroines who were Too Stupid Too Live. I mean, give me somebody to root for, not somebody who’s just going to dither until they’re rescued. But also, her men characters might be a bit repressed in the way of manly men at the outset of a story, but they are also strong, resilient, noble in their own unique ways, and willing to work on themselves. They’re not toxic. They never raise my “This isn’t love, this is abuse” red flags. They value teamwork and they respect the skills and abilities of others, including women, even if they’re not fond of those others.
Her stories are fast-paced and deeply interesting, the characters diverse in terms of ethnic background and sexuality, and there’s always some humor to balance grim situations. So I had a new favorite writer, and I read and reread and collected her books not just because I enjoyed them so but because there was a lot I could learn from them. I became a huge Brockmann fan.
And then—and then! —when she won RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, not long after I’d become a member of RWA, she got up and made an acceptance speech that called out RWA and the rest of the publishing world for its racism and homophobia (you can read her remarkable speech here That RWA LTA Speech (News from Suz) (tinyletter.com) or you can watch it here on YouTube, starting at 46:40 when her beloved son Jason comes up to introduce her for the award 2018 RWA RITA Awards Ceremony - YouTube ) and called for us all to do better. She’d leveraged her increasing clout in the publishing world on behalf of LGBTQ and POC representation, and she was calling on us all to do more too. To do better.
And at that point Suz Brockmann became not only one of my favorite writers, but also one of my favorite people. One of my favorite activists.
Okay. This seems a weird place to change gears, but I’ll come back to Suz in a minute. I need to introduce you to someone else as a lead-in to the rest of this story.
Mary Morris is my amazing critique partner and another of my very favorite people. We “met” via a goofy, funny little Twitter conversation about Roombas, of all things, and I was so taken with her sunny nature and absolutely wacky sense of humor that on the spur of the moment I asked if she wanted to be critique partners. She too writes contemporary romance, and thank heavens she said yes. Now, a couple/few years later, we have read and made suggestions on many, many of each other’s manuscripts, celebrated each other’s good news and happy events, and encouraged and supported each other through bad times. Mary is a beloved fixture in my life. Today we both have publishing contracts (In addition to numerous essays and short stories published under her own name in various literary magazines and a contemporary romance series in the works, Mary is half of the writing duo Phoebe Walker, whose debut paranormal romance "Mirror Witch" is due out May 2, 2023 from City Owl Press and whose ZA romance "Dead Weight" will also be out this year through Yonder!), but at the time of our first Twitter conversation, we were both still struggling to get anyone to look at our work.
Turns out Mary, too, was a Suzanne Brockmann fan, and when romance writers joined together to Romance the Vote (to raise money to help amazing activist and fellow romance author (writing under the name Selena Montgomery) Stacey Abrams get out the vote in Georgia), we both bid on silent auction items donated by Suzanne Brockmann. I had my heart set on the manuscript critique. That is an incredibly generous thing to donate, requiring hours and hours of work on a stranger’s manuscript that might very well be awful—maybe even torturous to read. So I bid on it, and then I asked myself, realistically, how high can I go without breaking my budget? And when bids exceeded my comfortable amount, I figured out a way to cut corners and bid a little more. Eventually, though, the bids rose so high there was no way I could keep going. I had to drop out. I told myself it was okay, it had been a real longshot anyway, and at least the winner would be donating a much higher amount than I could afford to a really good cause. And that’s what I told Mary.
But secretly and silently I was disappointed for myself, because somewhere deep inside I’d thought if I could get Suzanne Brockmann to read my story, I could get some excellent direction for my work. Maybe even some words of encouragement. Because Suzanne, for as no-nonsense as she seemed, also seemed kind.
And then, right about the time I got my agent, Mary won one of the silent auction items she’d bid on: a personalized, signed copy of Suzanne Brockmann’s book “Night Watch.” And when Suzanne contacted Mary to ask where and to whom she should send it, my big-hearted friend Mary said, “You know what, let’s help my critique partner celebrate getting an agent. Send it to Laura.”
And so when, out of the blue a little over one year ago, I received a Brockmann book, somehow I knew it was from Mary, and I contacted her to thank her, and she said/squealed, “Did you look inside? Look inside!” And I opened the book and found, on the title page, this personal message written by Suzanne Brockmann:
Congrats on getting an agent for what I’ve heard is a “fucking awesome” book!!
Remember me when you have ARCs to send out!! 😊
(with a little help from Mary!)
And reading that, I joined Mary in her squealing, and there may have been a few tears as well, and it was all very happy and very, very messy, and I still remember the incredible feeling of that day. Partly because of the thrill of the gift itself and my close encounter with one of my heroes, and partly because of my gratefulness for Mary’s friendship and generosity. And also partly because Mary and I recognized Suzannne’s message for what it was: an offer to write a blurb that could help gain attention and sell my book.
Fast forward almost a year. My wonderful agent Sara Megibow had sold the story that would become “Curves for Days” to Sourcebooks in a three-book deal. My wonderful editor Deb Werksman and her publishing team had helped me make the story better and ready it for publication. ARCs were about to go out, and I reminded them to send one to Suzanne Brockmann.
And Suzanne Brockmann read my story after all, more than a year after I’d tried so hard to win her manuscript critique package at the silent auction, and she wrote me lovely email messages about how much she’d enjoyed it, and she sent my editor the longest, nicest blurb EVER and told her to do with it whatever she wanted.
So “Curves for Days” comes out in August, with a blurb in the top right corner of the cover. It’s from New York Times best-selling author Suzanne Brockmann and it reads, “Crazy entertaining. First-rate story-telling– made me laugh and touched my heart.” That’s whittled down from a longer message that was full of such kindness it fills my heart and leaves me unsure what to do with the overflow. And her kindness results from and is connected to all these other lovely people I’ve been lucky enough to meet on this journey.
I’m so fortunate. So fortunate. And if I ever have clout in this world, may I use it as these wonderful women have: to help someone else. To do better.
PS: Suz Brockmann has, of course, been very busy. She's just written the final book of her long-running Tall, Dark and Dangerous series, "Blame It on Rio," and it is a wonderful, wild ride of a story. I can't think of any book I've enjoyed so much in a long time. But she's ALSO been working with her son, producing a new series on the Dekkoo channel. "Marriage of Inconvenience," about two very mismatched gay strangers in the witness protection program together, premieres April 6, and I'll be watching with my own son!
Laura Moher, navigating this new world of writing and publishing her stories.