I’d come to the place in my career where I realized that my family didn’t need a famous mother. They didn’t need a literary genius. Good thing because I wasn’t either.
What my family needed was a second income.
At that time, about ten years ago, I was selling fairly regularly to one or two newspapers, I’d broken into a few magazines and I’d had a children’s book published. All well and good but stacked up, plumped up and puffed up as high as I could puff it, it still didn’t pay the bills.
We needed some real money.
That’s when I decided I would write a romance novel. Now there was a genre where I could make some significant money and make it fast. Or so thought.
Confession number 1: I did it for the money. Just the money.
Like a good little writer I researched the field. I hadn’t opened a romance since I was a teenager so I picked up a few paperbacks and read them.
Hmmmm… They’d changed a bit in the interim. Gotten rather explicit.
That gave me pause. I don’t do explicit. Don’t do graphic.
But I was not to be deterred. I poked around and found a line that was more my speed. Harlequinn’s Intrigue novels were mysteries with a romantic component and according to the guidelines or at least the ones I received the romances were sweet rather than sultry.
So, I set to work to create my masterpiece. I figured I could produce an Intrigue in oh, about three weeks, a month tops.
Confession number 2: My heart wasn’t really in it. I was in it for the money. Or did I already mention that?
I called my book “Picture of Innocence.” The plot involved the disappearance of Mia, an eccentric young artist. My heroine, Paige, worked with Seth, an undercover RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to unravel the mystery. The setting moved back and forth between Paige’s English tearoom in the city to a remote and eerie lake where Mia had allegedly drowned.
I gave Paige and Seth, lots of witty dialogue, plenty of clever clues and a total of two kisses. It took a little longer than I had calculated but, when I shipped it off to my agent, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be snapped up by the publisher. They would love it.
Confession number 3: It wasn’t and they didn’t.
Turns out my masterpiece, my “Picture of Innocence” did not “meet their requirements.” Now, it’s been awhile and in a fit of pique, I did throw the rejection letter away but I seem to recall phrases such as no chemistry between the protagonists, lack of a plausible plot, and what on earth ever made you imagine you could write a romance? peppered throughout the missive.
They didn’t ask for a rewrite. They didn’t encourage me to try again. They just…..sent it back.
Confession number 4: A wiser and yes humbler woman, I stand, (well actually I’m sitting) before you and say – In spite of popular opinion and in spite of what I believed for years, it turns out that not just anybody can write a romance.
Ah, yes, I had learned much from my brief foray into the world of romance novels, but the initial problem remained. Remember? The money issue?
I resolved to go with my strengths. I was a fairly competent children’s writer. I had sold stories to several kids’ magazines and Sunday School papers. I liked to construct stories, starting with an incident or starting with a character. I didn’t even mind “writing to a theme” which many children’s publications require. In short, I enjoyed writing kids’ stories. I would do more of that.
I was a not-bad non-fiction writer. I had sold non-fiction to a variety of kids’ and grownups’ magazines. I enjoyed doing the research, interviewing people, and cobbling it all together into an article that could enlighten and entertain. I enjoyed writing non-fiction. I would do more of that.
But how did I begin to make money? I worked hard, disciplined myself to put in the eight hour day, five days a week. The more I worked, the more ideas I came up with. And the more ideas I came up, with the more I was able to see the potential in those ideas. Instead of writing an article on say, a couple who raised Palaminos for one market, I could reshape and reuse the material for several markets. I learned to sell first rights, reprint rights, one-time rights, etc. All while staying well within the strictures of copyright and ethics.
I am fascinated with weather lore, the old sayings such as “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”, etc. A few years ago I began researching and writing about them. So far I’ve produced two books, numerous magazine and newspaper articles, a newspaper column and a radio column. I’ve sold weather lore to kids’ magazines, adults’ magazines, Sunday School papers and weekly newspapers, to farm magazines, to nature magazines, to history and folklore magazines and, yes, to weather magazines.
One last confession: I am a more prosperous and definitely a happier writer when I write what I want to write. When my heart isn’t in it, it shows. And it doesn’t sell.
Shirley Byers Lalonde continues to write fiction and non-fiction from her home. She has been published in various magazines including Weatherwise, Brio, On the Line, My Friend and Saskatchwan Naturally. She is a contributing editor for With magazine and the author of three books; “Never Sell Your Hen on a Rainy Day,” (expanded) Sandhill Publishing, 1998, “Never Sell Your Hen on a Rainy Day,” (self-published), 1994) and Cat and Mom Story, Scholastic, 1989. She has written and voiced several pieces for radio. Her online book review column can be seen at Writers Web Designs.