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A Passion for Writing
As it appeared in the Columbia Missourian newspaper
by Kristina Sherry December 7, 2007 3:00 p.m. CST
Anyone driving alongside Kimberly Killion as she commutes to work from Jerseyville, Ill., to St. Louis on weekday mornings probably thinks Killion is crazy.
Behind the wheel of her 2007 Pontiac G6, she appears to be engaged in conversation with herself, talking, laughing and occasionally crying to no one in particular.
But what the other drivers on Interstate 270 might not see is her palm-sized digital recorder, which is capturing dialogue between a hero and heroine who “fight, play, laugh and sometimes say something so funny I laugh out loud,” Killion said.
“Life’s too short to spend so many hours on the road alone. Why not share it with someone, even if that someone is a fictional character?”
Killion writes romance novels, and the drive to work is just part of her daily writing routine.
According to the Romance Writers of America, romance is the largest selling genre in fiction. Killion is one of thousands of women (and a few men) across the country and hundreds in Missouri — accountants, teachers, engineers, stay-at-home-moms — who aspire to create their own happily-ever-after tales.
Kimberly Killion’s first published novel, “Her One Desire,” is a historical romance set in 1483 England to be released by Kensington Books in July.
It tells the story of a lord high executioner’s daughter who discovers a conspiracy that puts her in danger. The only man willing to protect her is the Scottish spy she frees from her father’s prison.
Romance novels like Killion’s are relatively brisk reads, as well as guilty pleasures — $4.99 impulse buys from the grocery checkout line that can offer escape from reality, companionship aboard an airplane or beside the pool or mind-numbing reward under cozy sheets after a grueling day.
But writing them is another story. The novels may be breezy or formulaic, but the process of becoming a published romance author is not. Killion’s nonstop artistic passion and exhaustive writing schedule offer a glimpse into the time, energy and emotional commitment needed to excel in the genre. Her typical day begins around 4 a.m. when she wakes up and writes until about 6, then gets ready for the rest of the day. Around 7 a.m. she puts her two children on the school bus, then leaves for work. Her commute offers about an hour each way to develop her characters.
Returning home from teaching graphic design at a St. Louis college, she sits down at the keyboard, presses “play” on the recorder and types away, producing somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 words of romantic fiction every day. She doesn’t turn off the lights until midnight.
“I usually put in about 10 to 12 hours per day writing,” she said. “I put in more time writing than I do for my ‘real’ job.”
For readers, romance fiction offers the comfort of a reliable formula. Although the settings, characters and sexual euphemisms may vary, behind each lusty cover image is this guarantee — an imperfect but likeable couple will meet early in the novel and coquettishly overcome obstacles together until they find happiness.
From Jane Austen to Nora Roberts, romance writers have played on this formula to the delight of countless readers (and publishing companies) for years. Georgette Heyer and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, whose “The Flame and the Flower” is often cited as the most iconic romance novel, are others whose tales are imprinted in the emotional memories of their readers. Killion first began writing in 1998 because she liked to read and as an artist, she considered herself creative enough to tackle romance.
“You just read so much and you think, ‘Gosh, I can do this,’” she said. “I think that’s how every writer starts.”
She says her initial writing attempts yielded “slop,” which gradually began to improve once she joined several critique groups and discovered she “didn’t know anything about writing.”
“Head-hopping,” for instance, is a common mistake made by beginners. That’s when the narrative abruptly jumps from one character’s point of view to another’s, Killion said, which tends to make readers dizzy.
Properly pacing a romance novel is also important. “If your character is running from the villain, they shouldn’t be running for 10 pages,” Killion said.
Chapters should begin and end with a “hook” to suck the reader into reading just the next chapter ... and the next ... and the next.
Killion seldom knows what will happen in her story and often finds herself sobbing over her keyboard once she learns the fate of her characters. In romance circles, this means she is a “pantser,” plotting the story as she goes — writing “by the seat of her pants” — rather than working it out in advance.
Killion says the “I love yous” surprise her just as much as they do the heroine.
Her quick success and rapid turnaround in completing and publishing her first novel are not typical. Of the 65 current members of Missouri Romance Writers of America, only a dozen or so are published, most taking longer to get there than Killion did.
Shannon Butcher, who lives in Independence, completed eight books and began writing several more before she was able to sell anything.
Her husband, fantasy and sci-fi author Jim Butcher, coached her in the mechanics of writing. In 2003, she quit her job as an engineer and finally sold her first books, “No Regrets” and “No Control,” last year.
“So I was doing it, but it wasn’t like something I was getting paid for for those three years,” she said. Now writing full time, she writes six to 12 hours daily.
Karyn Witmer, who has written successful historical romances like “Moon in the Water,” spent almost five years on her first novel.
She was teaching elementary school art classes outside of Rochester, N.Y., in the 1980s when she sat down to write what eventually became “Love, Honor and Betray,” set on the Niagara Frontier during the War of 1812.
“It was coming. The thing he dreaded most in the world was going to come to pass. Seth Porterfield’s head buzzed with the certainty that the two countries to which he owed allegiance would soon be at war.”
Once Witmer wrote this opening hook, she said finishing the book became “an obsession.”
She devoted much of her free time during breaks and after school to completing it, even after she moved to children’s art classes at the St. Louis Art Museum.
In the early stages, she kept the book a secret from her husband. “It’s hard to admit what you’re doing at first because it’s such a fantasy. Everybody you talk to says, ‘I intend to write a book some day,’” said Witmer, who now splits her time between the St. Louis area and California.
Certainly, juggling writing with career and family can be a challenge.
Shirl Henke, who earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from MU and has published nearly 30 paperback originals, began writing novels when her son was in grade school.
“I told my offspring unless it involved smoke or blood, Mommy was not to be disturbed while she was writing,” Henke said.
Michele Dunaway, who has written 16 books in less than eight years, will come close to writing five books this year. Her most recent novels, “The Christmas Date” (Harlequin American Romance Series) and “Hart’s Victory” (Dunaway’s first in the Harlequin NASCAR series), will be released this month. She is also a high school journalism teacher.
“I write in big spurts,” Dunaway said. “Lots of other writers have to write every day, but I’ll write for 10, 12 hours daily on the weekend.”
Having published so many books, Dunaway also has experience dealing with another curiosity of the romance industry: those steamy covers.
Describing the experience of seeing her Harlequin covers for the first time, she said, “It’s like giving birth to a baby. ... I don’t know what the cover will look like until it comes out.”
Although most publishers allow the authors to submit an “art fact” sheet, the final cover may still come as a surprise.
One of Killion’s heroines had strawberry-blonde hair, but the publisher selected a cover with a dark-haired beauty. So Killion had to go through her manuscript and change her descriptions to make the heroine a brunette.
Most authors would agree that publishers know what they’re doing. They can, for example, predict which cover art is likely to sell books.
“I have to say I’ve always had phenomenal, fantastic covers,” Dunaway said. “They know the market better than I do.”
In fact, many publishing companies have stock photos already on file of tightly sculpted abs or a couple riding horseback together. In other words, romance novels yet to be written have their covers ready and waiting.
Publishers also may suggest titles and even pen names.
Before agreeing to “Her One Desire,” Killion offered “The Executioner’s Daughter,” which she now realizes wasn’t “romantic enough.”
Also, “A reader wouldn’t buy the book if they thought the heroine was going to get her head cut off,’” she said.
Kimberly Killion is actually Kim Price, the name her friends, family and students use.
“Killion is my maiden name,” she said. “I’ve always thought it was cool, and Killion is Irish, which goes well with the whole Scottish theme behind my book.
“And let’s face it, ‘Kim Price’ doesn’t have a lot of pizzazz,” she added.
Karyn Witmer wrote “Love, Honor and Betray” when she was still teaching in a somewhat conservative school district and decided to call herself Elizabeth Kary (Elizabeth is her middle name).
When she moved on to a different publishing house, the first publisher retained contractual rights to Elizabeth Kary, so she became Elizabeth Grayson.
Recently, however, she returned to her maiden name to differentiate her historical novels from her newer contemporary ones.
“My most recent book came out under Karyn Witmer, and I didn’t really like that very well,” she said. “I kind of like being anonymous.”
Charlotte Hubbard, who has written inspirational fiction/romance novels like “Angels Embrace” and “A Patchwork Family,” also writes erotic fiction under the name Melissa MacNeal.
Her erotica credits include “All Night Long,” “Satan’s Angel,” and “Naughty Naughty.”
Hubbard was the keynote speaker at the monthly meeting of the Missouri romance group, held on a recent Saturday in St. Louis. Delivering a talk entitled “The Changing Face of Erotica,” she prefaced it by explaining, “Tomorrow by this time, I’ll be singing Ave Maria in church, but today I’ll talk about the smut that I write.”
Patricia Rice, who lives in the St. Louis area and whose books have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today best-seller lists, doesn’t believe anyone should feel ashamed of writing romance fiction.
“Aren’t we all out there looking for somebody we can connect with? This is what romance is about — finding that one relationship that works.”
Want to write a romance novel? Here’s advice from published romance writers in the Missouri area:
“I always tell people to follow your own voice. I love writing romance, but I know people who say, ‘Oh, those are formulaic – I’ll just write one of those to get my feet in the door.’ But then they try and find they can’t sell it or it’s harder than they think. You should write what you love, that’s what will sell.”– Michele Dunaway, “The Christmas Date” and “Hart’s Victory”
Find a critique partner. If you look at an author’s acknowledgements, you’ll find a lot of authors thank their critique partners for guidance and support.”
— Kimberly Killion, “Her One Desire”
"Read voraciously both in your market and out of it. It’s tough to break into publishing these days, so be persistent.”
— Karyn Witmer/Elizabeth Grayson, “A Simple Gift”
"You have to have skin 2 inches thick and more guts than a 500-pound hog. It’s a tough market. Everyone thinks she or he can write romance, but if you aren’t a reader who really loves the genre, you won’t write it well.”
— Shirl Henke, “Wanton Angel,” “The River Nymph” (which she co-authored with her husband, Jim Henke, a university professor)
“Make sure you have another job. It takes a long while to break into the market and an even longer while to make the sort of income you can live on.”
— Patricia Rice, “Mystic Guardian”
“Just keep working at it. There are a lot of people out there who want to write a book and they start it but never finish. It’s really just that stick-to-it-ness that gets you published.”
— Shannon K. Butcher, “No Regrets” and “No Control”
Debut Author Interview
by Edie RamerNovember 29th, 2007
This is the second of our monthly debut author interviews. We are excited to have Kimberly Killion, who has sold two books to Kensington’s Zebra imprint, taking time out of her edits to answer our questions.
I heard a little of the story behind your sale on the Pro-Org loop. Would you like to share?
The subject on the Pro-Org loop was ‘Pitching at National’, which is where I ultimately sold. I went to the 2007 RWA National conference in Texas with one goal; To sell. I had one completed manuscript, Highland Dragon, and one manuscript partially written, HER ONE DESIRE. I spent a year writing Highland Dragon and had entered it in several RWA sponsored contests. To my benefit, I won first place in the historical category of six of those contests and had that to take with me to National. I had two interviews set up, and luckily one was with Hilary Sares of Kensington. Though she perked up when I mentioned my contest wins, I didn’t have her full attention until I started talking about the book I had in the works. At the time, I only had five chapters written on HER ONE DESIRE. Hilary was very interested in the premise of this particular story and asked to see everything I had written on it to date, in addition to Highland Dragon. Ten days after National I got ‘THE CALL’. Hilary wanted to buy both books from me. The catch…she wanted HER ONE DESIRE to hit the shelves first. Of course, I was exhilarated, excited, but I only had five chapters written. Long story short…I had to write 80,000 words in three months. I called my dear friend, Erin McClune, for support and she made me focus. The following weeks were a whirlwind of chaos. I set myself on a schedule of 1,000 words a day and 5,000 on the weekends in order to meet my deadline. I got up at 4:00 a.m. to write before work and then wrote at night until 10:00, 11:00, sometimes midnight. I locked myself in the closet with my laptop for privacy and when that didn’t work, I went to the ‘shed’. But, I DID IT! By October 25th, I had 103,000 words written. I mailed it off and am currently awaiting edits. Whew!
Did you have an agent? If not, did you send this to agents previously?
I did not have an agent at the time, but had the full manuscript of Highland Dragon with five editors and agents from cold queries and contest requests. After I made the sale, getting an agent wasn’t all that difficult. I had four to choose from and went with the remarkable Meredith Bernstein. She has been in the biz for years and I adore her.
How long were you writing and how many books did you write before you sold?
I started writing a Regency in 1997, but my writing quickly went on hold after the birth of my son in 1998. It wasn’t until 2005 when my television broke, and I started writing again. I joined RWA and my local chapter, Missouri RWA, and also Heart Through History Online Chapter of RWA. I became interested in writing Scottish Medievals and joined a few critique groups at which point I realized I’d written my first book all wrong. Highland Dragon, as we will tentatively call it, was my second book and is set in 1502 in the Highlands of Scotland, followed by HER ONE DESIRE which begins in 1483 England.
We’d love to know about the types of books you write.
My passion has always been for historicals. I love the idea of being swept away in time and place. My favorite books to read are Scottish Medievals, hence the reason I write Scottish Medievals. I like the alpha hero, but I also enjoy a bit of humor. And yes, even an executioner’s daughter laughs from time to time.
Can you tell us about your debut book? What is it about and what genre?
HER ONE DESIRE will be released as a Zebra Debut by Kensington in July 2008. The story is set in 1483 England, a time when the nobles would do anything to gain King Edward’s crown. My blurb says it best:
Astride a stolen horse, encircled by the shackled arms of Broderick Maxwell, a Scottish spy escaping certain death in the Tower of London, Lizbeth Ives rides to the north, hidden by the merciful darkness. By stealth and by cunning, the daughter of the Lord High Executioner has undone her father’s cruel work, compelled to save the innocent man with her. There is no turning back—they are bound as one in his iron chains. Consumed by mortal fear, driven by passion, they disappear into the night…
A single raven follows them. Is it an omen?
Or only the first of those who would capture them? They must ride on. If captured, they will face death together. But if they reach Scotland, he will claim her for his own…forever.
What are your plans for the future? What can we look forward to from you?
Since sending in HER ONE DESIRE, I have started research on a new book. I’m going to Italy, or rather my hero is. I’m an artist by trade and have always been a lover of the Renaissance era. I’m a fan of incorporating actual figures into my books and am looking into the life of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Your website is great! And so is your trailer for HER ONE DESIRE. It looks very professional, but it appears you’ve done it all by yourself. Do you have any insights you want to share?
Thank you. As I mentioned, I am an artist. I have my degree in fine arts and work as a graphic/web design instructor for a business college in St. Louis. I’ve always been a natural with computers and am finding this works to my benefit when it comes to the promotional side of writing. As far as insights…it is my opinion that every author—published and unpublished—needs a website. Writers are professionals like anyone else, and what professional doesn’t have a website? If you are computer illiterate then hire someone to put you on the web. It is never too early to start networking and there is no better place to network than the internet.
I want to thank Edie for the opportunity to tell my story.
Astride a stolen horse, encircled by the shackled arms of Broderick
Maxwell, a Scottish spy escaping certain death in the Tower of London, Lizbeth Ives rides to the north, hidden by the merciful darkness. By stealth and by cunning, the daughter of the Lord High Executioner has undone her father’s cruel work, compelled to save the innocent man with her. There is no turning back—they are bound as one in his iron chains. Consumed by mortal fear, driven by passion, they disappear into the night…
A single raven follows them. Is it an omen? Or only the first of those who would capture them? They must ride on. If captured, they will face death together. But if they reach Scotland, he will claim her for his own…forever.