Romance

Money For Nothing

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Most writers get into the Romance genre because they read it, and they read it because they love it. Each writer is drawn to the genre for different reasons, of course. Whether the concentration on character; the focus on primary relationships; or the essence of the triumph of hope, the many appeals of the happy ending hook writers the same way they hook readers. Elizabeth Lowell, on the other hand, got into it for the money.

Let
me say up front that this is NOT a smart strategy. Nor is it usually
successful. And it has been tried many time. Thousands of writers
have decided that it must be simple to knock off a quick romance
novel – and rake in huge bucks thereby – and have set out to cash in.
Those cynical wannabes are met with swift and decisive rejection.
Writing a novel, even a Romance novel, is not easy. It’s not
simple. And if a writer has contempt for the genre she’s aiming
at, it shows.

Elizabeth Lowell is a singular case. First of all, she is really novelist Ann Maxwell, who had established a writing career for herself before turning to Romance. Ann graduated from University of California Riverside with a BA in English. But she didn’t begin writing until her first child was a toddler. At that point, she started creating her own stories, mostly, she says, because she was bored and lacked anything else to read. But from the very start, she had a talent for it. Her first novel, Change, was published in 1975. It was a science fiction novel, as were the seven which followed. Most of those were nominated for the Nebula Award.

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In the early eighties Maxwell traded in her typewriter for a word
processer, and soon realized a vast increase in productivity. With
her husband Evan, who was at the time an international crime reporter for the LA times, she began a mystery series. The ‘Fiddler and Fiora’ books, written as A.E. Maxwell, were a big hit, garnering
awards and all sorts of recognition. It was also the beginning of a
new chapter in the Maxwell’s personal partnership. They went on to
write many more books together, including one non-fiction title. Ann and Evan decided on characters and plots together, then took turns writing drafts, consulting with one another on changes until both were satisfied. The books were published under several different variations of their names: Ann and Evan Maxwell; A.E. Maxwell, even sometimes just plain Ann Maxwell (that was for a publishing house that wanted a woman’s name on the cover for marketing purposes). Even today, the copyright of their books, whether co-written or not, is assigned to Two of a Kind, Inc.

But
Ann was ready to take on even more. She studied the market for
growing genres. Mystery, she had covered already. Horror was
really not her thing. After a blitz of genre reading, she discovered
the work of Jayne Ann Krentz, and was charmed. Further reading got
her addicted. So she decided to try writing Romance.

Her
first Romance novel was published by Silhouette in 1982, as Elizabeth
Lowell (a combination of her middle name and Evan’s). And it is
in Romance that she has stayed, moving from category books with
Silhouette, to longer historicals with Avon and other publishers,
then on to modern romances with a mystery twist. Today, with more
than sixty titles to her name, Elizabeth Lowell is primarily known
for her contemporary romantic suspense.

But
the truth is, Maxwell has always written romances. Change,
although an SF story involving space travel and telepathy, is at its
core a love story. The book begins when Selena meets Mark, and the
plot is entirely driven by the physical and emotional consequences of
their subsequent encounters. The encounters become a relationship,
and the relationship becomes love. On that note, the book ends.
Sound familiar?

The
A.E. Maxwell mysteries, if not precisely romantic, are at least as
much about the relationship between Fiddler and Fiora as they are
about crime and resolution. The two protagonists used to be married,
and although they are now divorced, neither really enjoys being
without the other. Fiora provides the business acumen, and Fiddler
the muscle (and the willingness to use it). Together, they make a
formidable crime-solving team — but they make an even better couple.
As the series progresses, the books track their reconciliation with
delicate and satisfying steps.

In
other words, although Maxwell didn’t formally enter the Romance
genre until 1982, she was writing romantic fiction all along. And
she has been enormously successful at it. She has been a New York
Times bestseller for decades. She has won the RITA, and the Romance
Writers of America gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.

So,
yes, getting into Romance for the money worked for Maxwell. But
unless a writer shares her respect for the underlying traditions and
tropes of the heroic storytelling tradition, it’s not a career
choice I would recommend.

~~~

Chris Szego has seen the slush piles at Romance publishers, and they are to be feared.

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