Monday, September 27, 2010


The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome NYT bestselling author Susan Donovan. She writes contemporary romance with a trenchant wit and a melted-chocolate heart. But even with these two sterling qualities (among the many), she’s learned that the life of a romance writer is not all bons-bons and slavish devotion. And what’s up with that?

Susan Donovan

I remember the exact moment I realized I’d become “A NOVELIST” – an honest-to-goodness professional writer with an agent and a publisher and an option for my next book. It hit me while attending my first RWA National Convention in 2002. Upon my return home, I sat everyone down at the kitchen table and explained that things had changed. Mommy had a new career. This was serious business, I told them. Someday I would be a New York Times bestseller. I would earn a good salary. I would make a major contribution to our family’s future.

I asked my husband and children to respect this new reality. I told them that when my office door was closed they were to give me privacy to write. I told them I’d display a sign on my office door so there’d be no mistake. The sign would say, Mommy’s Writing.

“Does everyone understand what I’m saying?” I asked.

Two sets of little eyeballs blinked into the overhead kitchen light. My
husband cocked his head curiously. Crickets. . . I got nothing but crickets.

That next day, I taped my sign on the office door and attacked my WIP with a renewed sense of determination. Not five minutes had passed when I heard snickering out in the hallway, which was followed by scratching sounds and more snickering. I got up and opened the door. My kids were rolling around in the hallway holding their sides in hilarity. They’d defaced my sign. The word “writing” had been scratched out and replaced with “farting” – Mommy’s Farting.

Thus began my career as a romance author.

Of course, that stuff happened more than eight years ago. Those little snickering cuties are now a senior and sophomore in high school, respectively. My husband is now my ex-husband. I’ve hit the New York Times extended list three times. I’ve sold twelve novels and four novellas. I’m earning a good salary. Is this where you’re expecting me to say everything has changed? Sorry to disappoint.

I ran into an acquaintance at the post office the other day, someone I used to socialize with on a regular basis. She asked me if I was still writing or if I’d found a job. A relative asked me last week if I were still doing “those sex books.” During the legal proceedings that ended my marriage, my spouse said via his attorney that he’d prefer that I sought employment but that he’d allow me to pursue my writing “hobby” out of the goodness of his heart. (This was after I’d become a USA Today bestselling author and got a RITA nomination.)

And only late last week – oh yes, she really did – Danielle Steele told the world that she was not a romance writer. To an interviewer she explained, “I write about the situations we all deal with. Loss and war and illness and jobs and careers, and good things, bad things, crimes, whatever. And I really write more about the human condition.”

At times like these, a girl needs something greater than herself to turn to. I turned to Rodney Dangerfield. I imagined him in an old black-and-white TV clip, nervously tugging at his skinny necktie, sweat on his brow, his head twitching and his eyes bugging out as he shared his mantra with the world: “I tell ya – I don’t get no respect.” It helped to calm my temper and remind me that I can’t take myself too seriously. The truth is, all any of us can do is love what we do, do it to the best of our ability, and let it go.

Once I recovered from Danielle’s knife in the back, I tugged at my necktie and went back to work. And – is this a coincidence, or what? – the romance novel I’m working on right now happens to be about situations we all deal with, good things, bad things, crimes, whatever. It’s about the human condition.

How about you? What have been your most egregious "Just call me Rodney Dangerfield" moments since you began writing?

Don't forget to mark Susan's upcoming release schedule on your calendars:

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, December 2010, St. Martin's Press
"Gail's Gone Wild!" -- part of the HQN Spring Break-themed anthology THE GUY NEXT DOOR, with Lori Foster and Victoria Dahl, March 2011
THE COURTESAN'S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR MAN, with Celeste Bradley, June 2011, St. Martin's Press


  1. Hi Susan! Thanks so much for posting on the Rockville8! Your kids revising your sign cracked me up! But what you said: "The truth is, all any of us can do is love what we do, do it to the best of our ability, and let it go." says it all!

  2. This reminds me a little of when there used to be a guy who would ride with whoever was Emperor of Rome at the time and whisper in his ear, "You are mortal" to remind him he wasn't a god. Maybe these trials and tribulations are trying to remind us that we aren't goddesses?

    They are naturally wrong, of course. We are all writing goddesses. Windy or not.

  3. It is so shocking to me how little respect this genre gets an how little respect writers (especially female writers) get in general.

    Even my family members who pay lip service to understanding that writing isn't a hobby for me, but a career, get miffed when I won't drop everything mid-day, mid-week to help them out with something because "I don't have a job".

    If I went to an office every day they'd never dream of calling me to take off work to babysit or help them out with various things.

  4. Ah, always a topic close to my heart. And I've got more than one... One of my "favorite" stories is from the office, where when I mentioned what I wrote, a coworker said encouragingly, "Oh, you're smart--if you try really hard, I'm sure you could probably write a REAL book!" Probably? *sigh* Thanks...

    I had a friend-of-a-friend once ask if I'd take her to one of my writers group meetings because, while she had never actually READ a romance, she understood there was a lot of money in romance writing, and as it "had" to be easy, so why not churn out a few for extra money until she sold her SF manuscript. I'm not sure she's figured out yet why coordinating a get-together has been tough tough...

    Then there's the close family member who is quite supportive of my writing efforts...while referring to the entire romance genre as "that soft porn stuff".

  5. One that still makes my blood boil was a cross-genre talk by EDITORS at a national convention, where staff from houses were on a panel basically trying to recruit new authors and were talking about differences between their genre and romance. One actually had the nerve to say, "Well, OUR books have to have plots, so if you're willing to work with us to put a plot in, we might be open to talking with you." I was appalled.

  6. It's Danielle Steel, no final e, and she does not write romance, never has. She's not in denial; she's being accurate about where her books place in the range of what is published.

    As for getting respect from the ignorant, in this country money and fame count the most, and money is first. A little innocent, wide-eyed, "I can't believe how much money I am making on these books" will go a long way to getting you the respect you apparently need from these fools. I myself would not bother. Everyone thinks they can write a bestseller; it's a common bit of egotism, and who am I to tell them it takes talent and hard work and luck?

    Be happy in your work.


  7. It's interesting, though, isn't it that Steel is most often shelved in the romance section of bookstores? And who wouldn't like a little respect from their family? The casual acquaintance, yeah, I get that, but for family to take pot shots at your prefered career seems sort of cruel.

    I remember getting my MFA in film. My grandfather said making movies wasn't as lofty and respectable as being a mathematics professor. 15 years later and that still stings!

  8. I understand the sting. I can cite plenty of my own similar experiences and those of friends. Usually it happens when we are feeling proud of ourselves and thus the cutting opinions get in under our guard.

    We all have to make peace with the barbs we somehow did not see coming. We should forgive the people who genuinely love us, and those who don't get it, and (mentally) tell the haters to buzz off.

    In the case of stubborn relatives, repetition helps. "I am a professional writer. I make a very good living from my writing. Amazing, isn't it? How is the car dealership business these days?"


  9. Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by to read my blog and please accept my heartfelt mea culpa for the unnecessary "e" in Danielle Steel. That would earn me an automatic "F" back in journalism school, and I hang my head in shame. Thank goodness there are excellent copy editors in the world.

    And you are so right, Lily! A little wide-eyed humility is vital. Without humility, it would be impossible for any writer to create from his or her heart, because all of us know that once the work is out in the world it will surely be ridiculed or misunderstood by someone. I find humility allows me to poke fun at myself in my writing (including guest blogs) even with the full knowledge that many readers do not share my particular sense of humor.

    Oh well. What can you do? Like I said, I just love what I do, do my very best, and let it go.

  10. Great blog, Susan!

    I'm used to the family/friends stuff, but am left open-mouthed by sideswipes from the world in general. Two weeks ago, during the hottest month of the year, my cooler was down for ten days. It was 101 degrees inside the house. (note:coolers are about as complicated as tricycles.)
    When I complained to the landlord about how much time the repair guy was taking to fix it ("Ma'am" he would call me on my cellphone from the roof every five minutes "could ya go try that there left-hand switch on the thermostat?"), I got an indifferent moment of silence and then, "But you're home anyway, right?"

  11. Great post, Susan. Paraphrasing here: someone once asked Dolly Parton about her tacky outfits/hair and she told them she was blushing all the way to the bank. Your attitude of keeping your sense of humor is the best way to deal with it. Thanks for spending time with the Rockville 8!

  12. Great post, Susan. Sorry I'm chiming in late to the party. Life has thrown me a few curve balls lately. I'm lucky to jump out of the way. ;) So does it get any better? Or do you just come up with better ways of explaning your writing career without making excuses?