GUEST POST: FLIRTING WITH ROMANCE

Teena Raffa-Mulligan writes tales to entertain children of all ages and her publications include picture books, poems, stories, a chapter book and a novel. Recently, Teena has been inspired to try her hand at romance writing. Perhaps Love was published in Serenity Press’s Rocky Romance anthology, and was released as a novelette in 2016. Her novella, Risking Mr Wrong, was also published in 2016. 

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A love affair with romantic fiction was not in my grand writing plan. I had more serious literary intentions and the genre failed to win my heart when a high school classmate introduced me to it. She was so besotted with the novels published by Mills & Boon that it was a common sight to see her with her nose in a book as she walked from one class to the next.

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I, however, read a few of the romances she recommended and dismissed the stories as boring, predictable and totally unbelievable. That didn’t stop me penning a story about the rebellious daughter of an aristocrat who fell in love with a handsome highwayman. I knew nothing about love or the era I was writing about and chose to research neither. I filled the pages of an exercise book with the handwritten manuscript and promptly set it aside to write a murder mystery.

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I moved on to science fiction and fantasy and it was quite some years before romance and I crossed paths again. In the meantime I met the man of my dreams, married, became a mother and discovered the wonderful world of children’s books. While I continued to read eclectically and voraciously, my desire to write for children was born and that became the focus of the stories I was creating.

My mother-in-law shared my love of reading and each week she would end a shopping trip with a visit to the second-hand book shop, returning home with a new selection of books. You guessed it – romances. She passed a few on to me and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that while a lot were still predictable girl-meets-boy-and-overcomes-problems-to-win-her-love-and-live-happily-ever-after stories, I did find some that I really enjoyed. These were well-written, engaging stories with entertaining plots, for I found I gravitated to the light-hearted romantic tales that made me smile.

About this time I decided to do something about heroines behaving unbelievably in fiction and wrote my second romance. I’d already been writing for a good few years and some of my poems and short fiction for children had been published, along with a number of freelance articles in magazines and newspapers. Of course my romance broke all the rules and when I submitted it to Harlequin in the UK I received a polite little note that if I wanted to write for the genre I needed to study it because the publishers knew what their readers wanted.

That, I thought, was the end of my brief dalliance with romantic fiction. I continued to write for children with some small success while pursuing a career in journalism. Then ten years ago I joined a wonderful critique group of professional writers. I was the only published children’s author in our group of six committed authors. The others were all members of Romance Writers of Australia and while our group founder Anna Jacobs was a multi-published best-selling novelist of historical sagas, everyone else except me was writing romance. I was trying to write serious women’s fiction about family and relationships. They read my monthly chapter contributions and I read theirs as their manuscripts took shape. I learnt so much about writing craft in general and this genre I had so easily dismissed as not for me.

I remembered the break-the-rules romance I’d written 20 years earlier. It was still in my filing cabinet and I could now see what I needed to do with it. I still liked my 32-year-old uptight virgin and obnoxious tattooed biker. So Love and the Lady and Africa Brown underwent its first major rewrite. I won’t bore you with the submission and rewrite history. Let’s just say that novella has a bit of a chequered past and by late last year I’d decided to abandon it as one of my failed attempts at writing a saleable story.

Enter Karen McDermott of Serenity Press. Karen was looking for short romances set in Rockingham for an anthology.  I had nothing to lose and was looking for a diversion. I spent a couple of weeks writing a light-hearted 10,000 word story about a romance writer who didn’t believe in forever love. It was easy, it was fun and Perhaps Love was accepted and subsequently published in Rocky Romance to some lovely responses from readers. Karen was also looking for romantic novellas. Again, what did I have to lose? I sent the latest version of The Lady and Africa Brown.

To my absolute delight, Karen liked it. Yes, there’s been another rewrite following some wonderful feedback from Serenity Press editorial director (and my lovely daughter-in-law) Monique Mulligan. It has a fresh new title and a gorgeous cover … and I’ve just launched Risking Mr Wrong at the Rockingham Writers Centre Book Fair.

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In the meantime, I’ve submitted written another short romance for Serenity Press’s new anthology A Bouquet of Love and it’s been accepted so there’s no question I’m openly flirting with romance. I don’t know yet if this flirtation will turn into a serious commitment but I do have a few romantic ideas tapping me on the shoulder for attention …