Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Writer's Wednesday with Terry McLaughlin

This Wednesday we bring you Terry McLaughlin's story of her road to publication as a brand new SuperRomance author...

About Terry

Terry lives on a tiny ranch in northern California's redwood country with her husband of nearly thirty years. Their son, his wife, and a new grandbaby live just down the ranch road, and their daughter lives in Oregon.

Before she started writing, Terry was a teacher with experience at every grade level from Kindergarten to the elderly. Some of the subjects she's taught include world history, drama, British literature, architecture, anthropology, and music appreciation.

Journey to the Call

I never would have written anything other than the basics--homework assignments, grocery lists, office memos--if a college professor hadn't praised my work and suggested I write a book some day. I never, ever (no, not once) gave a thought to the possibility of becoming a writer, not until he planted that idea in my imagination. For the first thirty-five years of my life I viewed writing as a necessity, not something to do "for fun" when I didn't have to. I never kept a journal or wrote poetry or did any of those things writers do.

Five years after my teacher paid me that fateful compliment, I decided to give writing a try. I dreamed up the plot for a massive, multi-generational epic historical, something along the lines of Michener and Rutherford, did some preliminary research, and sat down to begin my novel.

After three excruciating days of work, I had produced exactly one page. And it was a stinker--we're talkin' peee-yuuww awful. Since I figured I'd be dead long before I typed The End (no real loss to the literary world), I decided to end my short-lived writing career while I still had my mental health.

A friend loaned me the book that brought me out of retirement five years later--a terrific mystery with a fun mix of who-done-it and to-sigh-for mushy stuff. I walked into my local bookstore and asked a clerk if Nora Roberts had ever written anything else. What luck--she had! Lots and lots of books, as it turns out. One problem: they were all shelved in THAT aisle. You know the aisle I'm talking about. Eeeyuuww.

A serious crisis of conscience ensued. I desperately wanted to read another Nora Roberts book, but I couldn't be caught dead with my nose buried in something with a writhing couple on the cover. So I compromised--a Nora Roberts book with a flower on the cover. And then another. And another. Within a week, I was hooked on romance. Within another week, I knew I wanted to write stories that would make people feel the way these books made me feel--filled with that first flush of new love and ready to kiss the stuffing out of my hero-husband when he walked in the door at night. (Although it was several months before I could bring myself to buy a book with a writhing couple on the cover.)

I sat down at my computer one night and started writing a story that didn't need any research, a story about something that had happened to me. (A slender and gorgeous twenty-something version of myself, with a hunky guy waiting to come to my rescue.) Several hours later, I glanced up from the monitor to discover the house had gone dark and my family had gone to bed--and I'd written fifteen pages as if by magic.

The Call

I'd like to say that every writing moment since that first magic one several years ago has been every bit as sublime, but that would be as fictional as...well, as the stuff I write. I finished my first manuscript, and then I bought a book telling me how to do it correctly. I contacted dozens of the wrong agents, and then I joined Romance Writers of America and learned how to go about contacting the right ones. I attended lots and lots of writers' conferences, so many I had no time to write anymore.

Eventually I got a little more serious about my fun new hobby, and I settled down to write a novel that had all the important ingredients--things like a plot, for instance. I finaled in the Golden Heart contest for the first time, and I got my first request from an editor, and I met several new writer friends who were making their first sales. It was all terribly exciting, and I felt I was on my way, as though I'd soon become published, too, by some sort of osmosis.

By the third time I finaled in the Golden Heart, I was feeling a bit discouraged. I sat down one afternoon with all my rejection letters and read them through, one right after the other, trying to discern what it was that was preventing me from making that magic first sale. I figured I had a long, tough road ahead of me, because the manuscripts I'd written weren't going anywhere. I was holding the proof in my hand, letters like the one about Learning Curve, my current Golden Heart finalist which told me it would "never sell," and that "no one wants to read a book about high school teachers."

A couple of days later I was dashing around in a panic, my mind filled with dozens of details as I packed for a long trip that would begin with our son's wedding in Oregon and end with the Romance Writers of America's annual conference in Reno. I still had to collect some cookies at the bakery before it closed, pick up the dry cleaning, hem a dress--dozens of things, all needing to be done within the next few hours. I turned on the shower, stripped, and was about to step in when the phone rang. I was tempted to ignore the call--I had to get those cookies!--but I thought it might be my husband adding one more important wedding-related item to my list of errands.

It wasn't my husband. It was someone named...(telephone static)...Laura...(telephone static)...Harlequin...(telephone static)...liked Learning Curve...(telephone static)...Golden Heart. I thanked the pleasant woman for calling, wondering why in the world someone from Harlequin would call just to tell me she'd enjoyed a contest entry...


My Golden Heart finalist. Someone from Harlequin. An editor, since they're the final judges.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I was standing there naked, and all the hot water was disappearing down the drain, and I HAD TO GET THOSE COOKIES BEFORE THE BAKERY CLOSED! But I figured if I skipped blow-drying my hair, I could ask her to repeat herself.

And since she wanted to buy Learning Curve, I decided I could take a cold shower and break several speed limits on the way to the bakery.

My story has a happy ending, just like all the stories I write. Although I'd never dreamed of becoming a writer, I was about to begin a dream-come-true writing career. And though I'd done lots of things the wrong way, it seemed I'd written one thing that was just right. Learning Curve, my first book for Harlequin Superromance, appeared on bookstore shelves ten months after that magic phone call.

And I got the cookies, too.

Thanks, Terry! What kind of cookies? We're dieting here, so we need to know -- Jenna

For more about Terry, visit her Web site or catch her contributions to the Wet Noodle Posse e-zine and blog.

upcoming releases:

second in the three-book BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG SKY series
Harlequin Superromance, February 2007

third book in the BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG SKY series
Harlequin Superromance, August 2007


  1. I LOVED "Learning Curve"! Looking forward to reading "The Rancher Needs a Wife"!

  2. And what a great interview/blog entry! I particularly like all the fun pictures.

  3. LOL. I laugh at the cookie story every time I hear it. :) Wow, I suddenly want oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but I can't...let...myself.

  4. Jenna--you can find Laceys cookies online at: http:/

    The first person I told about my sale was my husband. The second person I told was the cookie guy, and he gave me a box of cookies to celebrate.

  5. Thanks, Esri, for the kind comment about Learning Curve. I can hardly wait for your first book to hit the shelves!

  6. Aw, Trish, go ahead. Maybe a cookie will warm you up. And oatmeal is good for you.

  7. Ahhhhhh, Terry. I love your call story. So inspiring for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing.

    Marian S, currently a contest slut, trying to make that first sale!

  8. You're welcome, Marian.

    Gotta love those contests ;-). I had some terrific judges who taught me a great deal about my writing, and I'll always be grateful to them.

    Good luck with your contest entries!

  9. Terry, congrats! going to get The Rancher Needs a Wife today. :) I love Supers -- I think I know more Super authors than Blaze, LOL. They are just the nicest group. I'd hoped to add Supers as my second line, but my editor and I think my ideas might work better at American -- however, I'm still a die hard Supers fan, and can't wait to read your books. :)


  10. Terry,

    Loved your story - gives others like me in their later 40's still working on their first some hope! Still waiting to hear how I did on a contest - just plugging away. Those cookies sure look good, especially since I'm doing the no-carb diet.....drool!

  11. Did I see this book NOMINATED For an RT award???? Hmmmm????

    Way to go Terry!

  12. I think Learning Curve was nominated for best first congratulations are definitely in order!

    I just finished Terry's September title Make Believe Cowboy, and it was fantastic! Not sure who is on the cover, though. In my head, I cast Matthew that who you had in mind, Terry?

  13. Thank you for the congrats, Samantha.

    You're right--the Super authors are a super bunch. I'm lucky to have landed there!

    Good luck with the American line :-).

  14. I like books about teachers so I'll look up Learning Curve. I'm betting a bunch of other folks did too. Congrats on living your "never-dreamed-it" life.

  15. Nina, you make me feel so old--compared to a young 'un who's still in her forties ;-). Keep plugging away, and good luck in that contest!

    Oh, and go ahead and drool over the cookies. Drooling burns calories, right?

  16. Hey there, eagle-eyed Donna--yes, Learning Curve was nominated for an RT award for Best First Series Book. I'm thrilled!

  17. Jenna--at least they got the horse right ;-).

    That's interesting that you cast Matthew McConaughey as Fitz. I was picturing a younger Robert Redford (there's a line to that effect in The Rancher Needs a Wife). And that's what I wrote on the art sheets I turned in :-). Oh, well!

  18. Thank you for the congrats on my surprise second career, Patricia :-).

    I've heard from several teachers who liked Learning Curve--I hope you do, too!

  19. Terry, great, great call story. Never can get enough of those. Lovely to see you on the Pink Heart Society!

    And congratulations and all the very best with RT!

  20. The Pink Heart Society is a great place to be, Trish. I've enjoyed it!

    And thanks for the RT good luck wishes :-).

  21. Terry, congrats on your nomination and your wonderful "call" story. Don't know why high school teachers wouldn't work! They have to be heroes just to do what they're doing. I'll look for your books. (And all the Super authors I know are, in fact, SUPER!)


  22. Anne--thank you so much for the congrats and the comments. I appreciate them :-).

    One of the folks who rejected the manuscript told me she still felt too close to her high school days and couldn't imagine any of her teachers as "hero" material, LOL!