Thank you so much to everyone at Contemporary Romance Cafe for having me here today! When I was asked to speak about my road to publication, I was thrilled because as a fellow writer once joked to me “no one wants to hear about a writer who steps out of her BMW one day, jots down a quick manuscript, sends it off and gets the call the next month.” That certainly wasn’t me. Writing is a great joy, but my journey was hard work. It was about knowing what I wanted to do and keeping that close to my heart throughout all the ups and downs. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to write books. Particularly those delicious alpha heroes and firecracker heroines I had always loved so much in Harlequin Presents novels as a teenager, when being said teenager was just a bit too much to take. But it took time and experience to get there.
I sent my first partial manuscript to Mills & Boon’s London office at age nineteen. That manuscript, featuring a stirring rendition of Saturday Night Fever in a Presents novel, was rejected with some nice words from a senior editor about my writing. I was gutted, when in actual fact, in hindsight, I needed a whole lot more life experience to write the books I loved – books with a deep emotional intensity to them.
I went on to pursue a journalism, then public relations career, but I always kept writing in my life. I spent my vacations traveling to RWA conferences in fun, glamorous cities, soaking up the craft workshops and enjoying the camaraderie with fellow writers. I submitted two or three partial manuscripts along the way which were rejected. It hurt each time, but I picked myself up battled and bruised and kept on. There was something about writing I couldn’t stay away from – it was in my blood.
Four years ago, I came to a fork in the road. My career was of the all-consuming variety, leaving me little time to write. I was miserable without it. I left my job as breadwinner of my family, seriously anxiety-inducing at the time, and became a freelance consultant with the support of my husband. I spent every minute I wasn’t doing PR work writing. I set myself goals. I would finish a full manuscript. I did. That manuscript will never see the light of day following its rejection, but what I learned writing an entire book was invaluable. I learned why my partial manuscripts were always surfacey and without depth. Why they were being rejected. Because I hadn’t explored my characters in near enough depth. I didn’t know them like they lived down the street. I needed to write a full book to learn them.
I took a gazillion writing courses with some amazing instructors and soaked up as much as I could about the craft of writing. Then I wrote my second full manuscript, the first chapter of which I entered into Harlequin’s New Voices competition in 2011. That chapter did not final which really hurt because I believed in that book so much. I reworked the book, submitted it to a pitch with the editors in London and received a request to see it. Finally, I felt I’d had a breakthrough.
While that manuscript was still under consideration with Mills & Boon, I started working on my third full manuscript, The Divorce Party, inspired by the real-life story of a Manhattan billionaire who threw a million-dollar divorce party to celebrate the demise of his three-year marriage. It was the first book I wrote completely unselfconsciously. I took all the craft ‘rules’ that worked for me and threw out the rest. It was a love affair of the highest order, that book, and I loved every minute of writing it. I entered The Divorce Party into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition with the philosophy I would submit the first chapter, forget about it and move on with finishing the book. Never in a million years did I expect to make the top 28, then the top 3, then win the 2012 competition.
Can I tell you? Visiting the London Mills & Boon office after I was signed, walking up to 18-24 Paradise Road where I’d sent that first manuscript so many years before to see my first cover? Totally, utterly surreal.
That book I loved so much that was sitting on my editor’s desk when I won So You Think You Can Write is Changing Constantinou’s Game, which has just been released as my fourth Presents.
When I’m asked what made the difference for me – I really believe it came down to writing a book I loved – a book I wanted to pick up off the shelves, letting my natural voice free and knowing the series line I wanted to write for inside out. And perseverance – it’s been said a million times – but if you don’t push on through the hard times and believe in your work – it will never happen.
I’m curious – what got you through the hard times? What made the difference for you? And if you’ve yet to be published what keeps you going? I know for me it was that heavy feeling I had every time I had to put a manuscript aside when all I wanted to do was write. A commenter’s name will be chosen to receive a print copy of Changing Constantinou’s Game.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt. Thanks again for having me today!
Changing Constantinou’s Game – Book Blurb
One kiss couldn’t hurt, could it?
Alexios Constantinou is notorious for his lethal charm, so when the exquisite Isabel Peters is—literally—dropped into his lap during a hellish elevator ride, he doesn’t waste the opportunity! With tensions sky-high after their near-death experience, an insatiable desire ignites between them, and all bets are off.
But when Alex discovers that reporter Isabel’s next story is him, he’s furious…yet determined to use it to his advantage. He’s calling the shots, but the closer Isabel gets, the closer she comes to discovering his carefully concealed secret. Now, with everything at stake, he’ll need a whole new game plan….
Changing Constantinou’s Game – Excerpt
Izzie focused on forking the small amount of food she thought she could consume into her mouth at the small candlelit table Alex had set on the terrace. The herbed pasta was delicious, but it was hard to eat when her heart was still pounding and her hands trembling so much negotiating a fork seemed like a new and highly complex activity. And why wouldn’t it when she had literally jumped into the deep end and invited the most spectacularly good looking man she’d ever met to kiss her–and he had! Not to mention the fact that the kiss had been the most incredible of her life and all she could think about was experiencing more of the bone-meltingly delicious heat that had coursed through her veins. It was like every nerve ending in her body had been switched on for the first time and she wasn’t sure whether to revel in it or be completely terrified of what she was feeling.
She swallowed hard, forced down the food. The fact that she’d been right–that Alex was attracted to her–made her head feel like it was going to blow off. Maybe Jo was right. Maybe it had been her defensive attitude that had turned men off in the past and not the fifteen extra pounds she’d been carrying. Which had always been her excuse.
She took another sip of the rich, full Cabernet that was going a long way to mellowing her out. But the wine didn’t seem to be having the same effect on Alex who’d glowered at her throughout the entire meal-as if she’d committed a crime rather than simply kissed him.
She risked a quick glance at him. He was still watching her with that same, implacable frown on his face, that penetrating blue gaze of his impossible to read. And it occurred to her she hadn’t fully thought through her plan. She had the mind numbing confirmation he was attracted to her…the question now was what was she going to do about it?
Her heart pounding in her chest, she set her fork down with an abrupt movement, and the sound of metal clattering against fine china echoed in the still night air.
He gave her half-empty plate a narrowed glance. “That’s all you’re going to eat?”
“It was delicious, thank you. I think that’s about all I can handle.’
“All right.” He laid his fork down with a deliberate movement and pushed his plate away. “Let’s talk about what happened.”
Gladly. She took another sip of her wine to fortify herself and set the glass down.
“That kiss shouldn’t have happened.”
She was ready for that one. “Why not?
“I’m much more experienced than you, Isabel. I’m not interested in relationships, in fact mine never last longer than a few months, and the women I date are well aware of that.”
He did a double take at the belligerent note in her voice. “You’re also probably still in shock from what happened today.”
“I’m absolutely fine,” she countered. “In fact I feel like I have more clarity right now than I’ve ever had in my life.”
He sat back in his chair, his gaze on her face. “What kind of clarity?”
She twisted the stem of her wine glass on the table, watching the blood red liquid shimmer in the candlelight. “That was my worst fear today. Facing it-getting through it-” she paused, looking up at him, “–it’s made me realize how much of my life I’ve lived in fear…how many times I’ve not gone after what I wanted because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it or it would explode in my face.”
He gave a wary nod. “That’s a good realization.”
She shook her head. “I’m not looking for a relationship, Alex.” A husky laugh escaped her. “In fact, that’s the last thing I need right now.”
His eyes narrowed. “Then what are you looking for?”
“I don’t want to live with any more regrets.”
He shook his head, a wry smile curving his lips. “You’re twenty-five, Isabel. How many regrets can you have?”
She took a deep breath, meeting his gaze head-on. “I will regret it if I walk away from tonight without exploring the attraction that’s between us.”
A muscle jumped in his jaw. He sat there completely silent, staring at her. “I’m not sure you know what you’re doing.”
She shook her head. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”
A long moment passed, it might have been four, five seconds, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she was holding her breath, sure at one point he was going to reject her. The warm night air pressed so heavily against her lungs she thought they would burst. And then something shifted, morphed on the air between them. And she got her answer in the darkening of his eyes.
JENNIFER HAYWARD has been a fan of romance since filching her sister’s novels to escape her teenaged angst.
Her career in journalism and PR, including years of working alongside powerful, charismatic CEOs and traveling the world, has provided perfect fodder for the fast-paced, sexy stories she likes to write, always with a touch of humour. You can find out more about Jennifer and her books and sign up for her newsletter at her website. Or you can find her on twitter and facebook.