Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I Used to Be a Romance Writer" ~ Guest Post by Thelma Zirkelbach

I used to be a romance writer. People are surprised when I tell them this, because I don’t look like most people’s picture of a romance writer—say, Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone. When I explain that I’m also a speech pathologist, no one is surprised. I look like someone who would enjoy helping children overcome lisps. Nevertheless, I have written a number of books for Harlequin, so I’m a bona fide romance author. Here’s my story, with its not-so-happy ending.

I always say that I became a romance writer because I don’t drive on the highway. When my father’s health began to fail, I made frequent trips to visit him. We had three teenagers in the house at that time, so my husband stayed home to keep an eye on them. Because I fall asleep the minute the car leaves the city limits, I made my trips on the bus. Boring. I needed reading material. One day I was wandering through a discount store book department when I came upon a Silhouette romance. Hmm, just the right length to keep me occupied on my next bus trip. I bought it, read it, and got hooked on romance. I began buying two books, one for the trip there and another for the trip back. I bought more and read them at home.

One day I saw an article about Romance Writers of America, which was having its first annual conference in my home town of Houston. Hey, here were a bunch of women getting paid for writing what I was reading. Why not me?

I joined Romance Writers of America and hesitantly went to my first meeting. How would a nice middle-aged speech pathologist fit in with those sexy gals who turned out hot books? Surprise! Most of them were just like me. I had found a home and a group of friends.

Eventually I sold my first book, Blessing in Disguise, written as Lorna Michaels, to Harlequin Superromance. Alas, I never became really famous but I did sell my share of books, and yes, they were hot. In fact, the editor of my first book told me to cut down on the sex. I had too many love scenes.

My writing career continued until my last book came out in 2006. That was A Candle for Nick, a Silhouette Special Edition. Writing that book was eerie. The heroine’s son has leukemia and shortly after I pitched the idea to my editor, my husband was diagnosed with the same disease. I wrote that book while he fought a losing battle with cancer and finished it just weeks before he died.

His death propelled me from romance to creative non-fiction, where I have found another home. I’ve been working on a memoir, have published essays in various anthologies and am currently co-editing an anthology on widowhood with Silver Boomer Books. Anyone interested in contributing? Check out and click on For Writers. We’re accepting submissions through March 31.

I love writing, from those too-many sex scenes to the quiet reflection of the essays I write today, with my cat sitting on my desk and purring as I type on my computer. I love being a speech pathologist, too. I have the best of both worlds, although I wish my husband were still here to share it.

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