Expecting only ‘pocket money,’ a best-selling CT writer finds a winning formula
Romance writer Jamie Beck loves a good love story. Her favorite relationship topic, she says, is “unrequited love,” but if that sounds at odds with how most romance novels end, no worries. Beck, 52, says as an author she can give any couple a happily ever-after ending. In a recent phone interview from her New Canaan home, the best-selling author (with book sales at more than 2 million copies) gave us insight into her fast-paced world of romance writing.
Q: Your first career was as a lawyer. When did your love affair with writing begin?
A: When I was young I wanted to write for television and the movies. My parents didn’t know about writing and publishing and didn’t encourage that. I did commercial real estate and lending work for about 10 years and when (my husband and I) moved from Pittsburgh (her hometown) to Connecticut I was a stay-at-home mom with my two children. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be at home with them (but) I was searching for something to do that would be interesting to me. One day when my kids were in grade school I thought maybe I’ll try to write a book. I did it in secret and hid it under the bed. I really didn’t know what I was doing. Then I started to learn more about writing and publishing.
Q: What happened to that first novel and did more books follow?
A: It’s still under my bed. By the third book I got an agent (in 2013), but it’s an odd story, it was my second book, “In the Cards,” that got published first (in 2014).
Q: How do you feel about being called a romance author rather than maybe a women’s fiction writer?
A: My books are all romance. A lot of readers don’t know how to distinguish (between the genres). Romance is when the couple is the center of a story and it has a happy ending. Women’s fiction is usually a story that’s about a woman’s journey after some kind of event, like after a divorce or a death, and about the growth of the woman from point A to point B. You could have a romantic element, but it’s not the main story. Love could or could not be a part of the story. In 2020 I’ll be flipping to women’s fiction with romantic elements. The romance will not be the main thrust of the story, but an element.
Q: You describe your novels as “smart fiction with heart” that deal with real-world problems, such as alcoholism or trauma, and the characters are everyday people, not the very rich. Why?
A: For me, romance novels really represent hope in a way, that through love we can overcome most things and we can be our best self. That’s probably the message in well-written romance novels. It helps readers relate to characters who are very realistic. It’s important to deal with real topics because that’s what we all deal with.
Q: Are you surprised by your success in such a relatively short time?
A: Very surprised. I thought (my writing) would be pocket money or for a trip to Europe. My first break-out book was “Worth the Wait” in spring 2015. It sold 100,000 books in three months. I thought (what I was writing) is what I would like to read. It was different than the other romance books out there. I had the right story at the right time and I kept my readers.
Q: One way you seem to have kept readers is with the different series of books you created.
A: Writing a romance series is more of a publisher suggestion. Romance readers love coming back to characters and seeing their progression. It’s like a soap opera. The Sterling Canyon novels are the sexiest and probably the most explicit. The best-selling is the St. James series and there's the Cabot series. They are both family dramas.
Q: Your latest series, Sanctuary Sound, is set in a fictional town on Connecticut’s shoreline. The first one debuted in October and the second, “The Promise of Us” (Montlake Romance, $12.95), comes out April 9. Is the fast turnaround of romance novels and coming up with ideas difficult?
A: “The Wonder of Now” (the last in the series) is coming out in September. I used to have to write three books a year because romance readers are very voracious. I always know where I want (a story) to begin and end. The middle is always the hardest struggle.
Q: Authors seem to have mixed reactions about their work being turned into films. Do you see any of your books becoming a Hallmark TV movie?
A: Hallmark is too sweet and there’s not too much anguish (in its movies). Mine are more like a Lifetime movie. I do have mixed feelings. I hear the characters in my head and if I didn’t have control (over the casting), I probably would hate it. Sometimes when I listen to audio tapes (of my books), it’s never quite how I would do it.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
A: I would encourage anyone who had the thought to write a book … to just sit and start. I think we’re going to see a rise in funny, humorous books of all kinds. There’s a lot of fighting going on in the outside world and I think people will gravitate towards humor. I’m not funny. I’d have to work really hard to write fun, clever dialogue. You have to play to your strengths. The Romance Writers of America is a great group to join and you don’t have to be a romance writer. It’s an invaluable thing to meet with other writers and talk. I had people help me and I try to be there to answer new writers’ questions and help people reach their dreams.
Jamie Beck will be part of the Romance Writers of America annual conference July 24-27 in New York City.
Eileen Fischer is a freelance writer and former editor of Sunday Arts & Style.