Romace and fiction, an everlasting love affair

10 Nov

In her spare time, Paula Stelluto enjoys knitting, crocheting, “crafting” and writing hot romance novels.
During the day, she’s a food manager for a school district in Fairport, N.Y. But when she’s home from work —  at night, on the weekends and during the summer — she’s busy writing romantic fiction.

Stelluto’s not published — yet — but she’s confident one day she will be. Right now she’s polishing a 250-page manuscript tentatively titled “Hero for Hire” for an editor at Harlequin publishers, who requested a full manuscript after being pitched the book at a national romance writers’ conference last year in Washington.
“It’s always difficult to explain the story,” says Stelluto. But  she managed to compress her novel into a single story line—a cautious widow meets her opposite, a man who is daring and adventurous.

“She doesn’t want to fall in love with him, but of course she does,” says Stelluto about her latest story. “The hero’s name is Nick. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to call the heroine.”
In 1989, Stelluto founded WNY Romance Writers. Today the group has 25 members. All are women, and much to their  delight, five are published authors of romance novels. They meet at 11 a.m. the third Saturday of every month in the community room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Cheektowaga.

Who are these romance writers, you ask? You wouldn’t recognize them if you saw them, or maybe even if you read their books.

One writes erotic romance under the name “Trixie Stilletto” and traditional romance by her real name, Karen Troxel. She’s published five novels, so far.

They’re psychologists, lawyers,   journalists, free-lance writers, engineers, pastry chefs, college professors and stay at home moms.

Trying to peg them? Don’t even try. One former member was a U.S. Marine. Some are younger women with growing families; some are single, older women; the others fall somewhere and everywhere in between.

All are irrevocably in love with the romantic fiction genre, a reason why many of them began writing it in the first place.

Williamsville resident and group secretary Amanda Usen, 37, majored in creative writing at Vanderbilt University and then went to the Culinary Institute of America, where she met her husband.

“I always read romantic fiction, even in high school,” she says. “I was always hiding a Harlequin romance. If my father walked into the room, I hid it in my purse. But finally I embraced it. It’s what I love to do.”

Today she teaches cooking classes at Tops cooking school; tutors SAT preparatory classes; among other part-time jobs, and raises a family of three. In her spare time,  she writes romance novels. Right now she’s working on a story, a “hot chef romance” titled “The Next Guy.”

Usen likens writing to going to the gym: “If I don’t do it, I get a little depressed.”
 
 WNY Romance Writers is the local chapter of a larger, national nonprofit association, Romance Writers of America, which has 10,000 members and 145 chapters across the nation, according to its Web site.

Each year, Romance Writers of America hosts a national conference,  (this year’s will be in Nashville, Tenn.). The conference is attended by thousands of women who gather for four days to network with other writers, pitch their stories to editors and attend hundreds of workshops addressing topics such as “high-octane kisses” and how to create the “Alpha hero.”

For longtime  member and group president Helen Jones, a part-time newspaper reporter and mother of three, the essence of romantic fiction is empowerment to women and happy endings.

“Women solve their own problems,” she says. “What’s always fascinated me about romance as a genre is that it’s mostly women. It’s written by women, edited by women, purchased by women. You have women dominating a business that is tremendously successful.”

 “Tremendously successful” is exactly right. While other publishing industries are collapsing, the romantic publishing industry  remains strong, as sales of steamy paperbacks continue to soar.
 According to Business of Consumer Publishing 2008, a market intelligence report for the U.S. trade book publishing industry, romantic fiction was the largest share of the consumer market, at 13.5 percent. Romantic fiction grossed $1.37 billion in 2008. In comparison, classic literary fiction grossed $446 million.

 The genre ranges from sweet to, well, erotic, and there is every subgenre imaginable—contemporary, historical, paranormal,  suspense, inspirational, young adult  …  the list continues.

 “Romantic suspense is really hot right now,” said Jones. “But it’s extremely competitive.”

The first half of the WNY Romance Writers’ meeting is all business, explained Jones. During the second half, the members bring in a guest speaker, and they have a little more fun. Sometimes it’s a published author, either in person or through teleconferencing. Sometimes the speakers are  FBI agents or police officers  — because law enforcement is really “in” right now.
  

“One of the things I get out of the local chapter is camaraderie,” says Jones. “It’s a lonely profession.”

Usen describes women in thegroup as “business savvy.” She learned from veteran members  how do things like create a book proposal and cover letter.

They may be savvy, but they’re also sweet. When a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, the group throws a “first-sale party” for the author, explained Stelluto. The party involves cake, champagne, balloons and roses.

One common critique of romantic fiction is that  it’s   too formulaic: a couple must overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to reach their happy ending.

 Jones dismisses this.

 “It’s the journey getting there that makes the story interesting,” she says. “It’s not just fantasy or escape. It’s a good story.”
 
 As long as happy endings are in style, romantic fiction will continue selling and this group of women will continue writing, long  after their names appear on those scandalous book covers you see  at the grocery store.

 For more information about WNY Romance Writers, visit the Web site: www.wnyrw.org.

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