I MET MY HUSBAND on a blind date. He was in college at the time, studying engineering. I blush to confess that, as an arty ex-theater major, I wasn’t exactly sure what engineering was. To this day, he reminds me that I asked him if it had anything to do with “fixing toasters.” (Okay, I wasn’t too bright, but I had a good heart.)
I GOT PREGNANT the usual way. Bill and I had been married for two years and wanted to start a family. He was out of town on business the night I went into labor with our first son, but he made it back in time to witness the birth. He was also at my side when our second son was born. Today our boys are grown, and I couldn’t be prouder of them or their families. Today our boys are grown, we’ve welcomed a “bonus” son and daughter into our family, along with four grandchildren, and I couldn’t be prouder.
I STARTED TO WRITE by accident. I taught high school until our oldest son was born, then quit to stay home. Eventually, my husband’s job took us from Ohio to central New Jersey. My best friend Claire lived two doors down the street. Both of us were big readers, reading everything from literary fiction to the newly popular historical romance novels. We loved talking about the books—what we liked, what we didn’t. One day, just for fun, we decided to try to write a book together. For three weeks as we rode our bikes in the evening, with my toddler in the baby seat behind me—No helmet. Those were the days—we plotted our story. Then we sat down with a yellow pad and began to write.
FOUR HOURS LATER we’d come up with exactly three sentences. We had no idea how to write a book together, but we were getting a good idea how not to do it. Over the course of the next few months, we worked out a system. We’d get together to plot a scene, frequently role-playing dialogue. Claire would take copious notes, carry them to her typewriter, and come up with a rough draft, which she’d give to me. Sometimes I’d just change a sentence here or there. Other times, I’d throw out all of her hard work and start over again. Somehow our friendship survived.
IDIOTS’ LUCK. With only half the manuscript completed, we got the phone number of an editor at Dell Publishing. Sweating bullets, we called her. She was a very nice woman, asked us some questions about our book, and then agreed to see it, even though it wasn’t finished. Unfortunately, she also wanted to see a synopsis. Synopsis? We barely knew what was going to happen in the next chapter, let alone the end of the book. Knees trembling, we ran to the typewriter and came up with something, then spent the next few weeks typing a fresh copy of our manuscript to mail off. (Yes, “typing.”)
THREE WEEKS LATER the telephone rang. It was the editor. “I’m calling from Dell Publishing. We’ve read your manuscript. We like it. And Dell is prepared to make you an offer.”
JUST LIKE THAT…WE’RE PUBLISHED! I never tell this story at writers’ luncheons for fear I’ll have to duck flying French rolls thrown by an angry audience. It sounds so easy, but the market was red hot then, and publishers were hungry for books. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy now. It took us another year to finish the book, which was published in 1983 as THE COPELAND BRIDE, under the pseudonym Justine Cole. (I wanted to use Chastity Savage, but Claire wouldn’t let me.) The book is now out of print, which is good because it isn’t even close to being politically correct, and I’d get deluged with angry letters if it were ever re-issued. Still, I’m incredibly proud of it. Considering the fact that neither Claire nor I had ever written so much as a short story, we did a pretty good job, despite a couple of rapes here and there.
ABANDONED AND PREGNANT. (Actually, I wasn’t pregnant, but I want to keep your attention in case you’re getting bored.) Claire hadn’t been bitten as deeply by the writing bug as I had. Her husband was transferred to the southwest, and her dream of going to law school came true. She is now leading an exciting life as an extremely successful assistant U.S. attorney for one of our border states. I, on the other hand, had to learn how to write a book by myself.
SCARED TO DEATH I plunged into another historical romance, which was eventually published as RISEN GLORY and has since be reissued by Avon Books as JUST IMAGINE. This was my first book written as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and, yes, that’s my real name. Writing alone wasn’t nearly as much fun as writing with a friend, but I had all these stories tumbling over each other in my head, and I didn’t seem to have a choice. I went on to write GLITTER BABY, my first big women’s fiction contemporary novel. Wow! The book had huge international sales and received a lot of attention in this country. I finally had a real career going.
RESETTLED in the Chicago area, I begin writing what I think of now as my “big books,” FANCY PANTS, HOT SHOT, and HONEY MOON. I loved these books. A bit more mainstream than what I’m writing now, each one took me at least two years to complete. All were published by Pocket and are still in print. As I wrote these books, I discovered my contemporary “voice.” Unfortunately, although the books were doing well in the international market, it was taking me so long to write them that American readers didn’t know who I was. I had to speed up! Luckily, I was finally developing enough self-confidence in my own abilities to relax a little.
NORA ROBERTS SAYS, “I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank one.” I found the courage to fill my screen with bad pages on those days when my mind was mush, then trust myself to fix them later.
A FOOTBALL PLAYER COMES CALLING—in my mind, at least. For a long time I’d been wanting to write about a woman who knows nothing about sports and inherits a professional football team. My first romantic comedy, IT HAD TO BE YOU, was the result. This book carried me to my new publisher, Avon, and re-energized my career.
A GOOD FAIRY WAVES HER MAGIC WAND. Her name is Carrie Feron, and she’s the Executive Editor at Avon Books. Thanks to her magic, IT HAD TO BE YOU, HEAVEN, TEXAS, and KISS AN ANGEL were published within eighteen months of each other. Readers finally knew who I was, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE was released. I was signing books at a wonderful store in St. Louis when I got that news that, not only had it landed on the USA Today Top 50 bestseller list, but it was number fifteen! When DREAM A LITTLE DREAM made the New York Times best seller list, I was home by myself, which might have been a good thing because no one could hear what a fool I made of myself when I screamed.
IF I’M SUCH A BIG STAR, WHY AM I STILL WASHING DISHES? Short answer—because they’re there! (And nobody else is rushing to do them.) I love being outdoors. I also have a regular yoga practice, and no, I’m definitely not flexible, which is why I have a regular yoga practice. I’m also an art museum junky, so if I’m scheduled to come to your city on a book tour, you can bet I’ll do my best to squeeze in a few hours at your local art museum. I’m delirious with happiness when I’m wearing a pair of hiking boots and walking a trail somewhere in the world with family or girl friends. With our sons married to wonderful women and the universe’s most gifted grandchildren , family continues to be at the center of my life. I’ll turn off my computer in a second to be with the kids.
WANDERLUST. I love to travel but can’t let it interfere too much with my writing schedule. A dream trip with Bill walking through Tuscany inspired BREATHING ROOM. A trip to Sicily with Helen, my long-time traveling companion (while our husbands stay home on the golf course), served as inspiration for DANCE AWAY WITH ME. I’ve also taken wonderful trips with my darling sister: Bermuda, Northern California, Santa Fe, Paris, and London. I’ve been fortunate to hike segments of the Coast-to-Coast across Northern England. I’ve visited charming villages in France’s Dordogne Valley, southern Spain, and Iceland. I’ve ridden camels in Morocco and at Egypt’s Great Pyramids. I’ve nearly killed myself walking the last seven miles of Peru’s Inca Trail. Wherever I go, I take photos, which I enjoy sharing on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And, of course, I also bring books. I regularly read romance and “women’s fiction/relationship books,” along with great non-fiction—basically anything with a happily-ever-after. I love keeping in touch with all of you, so be sure to sign up for my (no spam) Newsletter. And you’ll never know how much I appreciate all your heartwarming reviews and kind emails.
Now go hug someone special!