Seduction, Sin, and Happy Endings Between the Covers of Today’s Romance Novel

Stacia Deutsch ’90 is a woman of many trades. She is a Scripps alumna (class of 1990), a mother of three small children, a wife, an ordained rabbi, and a romance novelist. Yes, a romance novelist. At this year’s Camp Scripps, she was asked to lead a workshop on writing romance novels.

Admittedly coerced into attending this workshop by my coworkers in the Scripps Office of Public Relations, I was unsure of what to expect. I had seen women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and races congregating in dorms, on lawns, and in courtyards, their only commonality: their Scripps education. On the agenda were such activities as: poetry workshops, pediatric/adolescent/ young women’s health forum, soap making, yoga, needlepoint, painting, and, of course, a writers workshop on how to write steamy, sexy romance novels.

Walking into the Toll living room late Friday afternoon, I was greeted with smiles and sincere proclamations of “Hello!”

I did not know what I had gotten myself into, or more appropriately, what my coworkers had gotten me into, but oddly enough, I found myself returning their smiles and introducing myself. A few other women joined us, and before I knew it, ten women had arranged themselves in a circle and were talking joyously about their time at Scripps and how wonderful it was to be back.

Stacia, short and petite with red hair, exuberant yet a bit frazzled, came in carrying numerous paper bags filled to the brim with paperback romance novels. She spread them on the coffee table, and interested, I glanced at the covers of some of them. I was met with pictures of men with big bulging muscles in tight jeans with their arms around either mousy virginal demure ladies or flaming red headed vixens with book titles like Wanton Angel, Tears of the Moon, and Stacia’s own Kiss Me Quick, written under the name Sara Elliot.

She began her workshop by having us introduce ourselves and give our reasons for attending. Her audience included a non-fiction author, a retired schoolteacher, a grandmother, three or four at-home mothers, a young pregnant woman, an aspiring scriptwriter, and myself. Some women wanted tips on how to write love stories, some wanted guidance as to how to get a story published, others came only because it sounded interesting, and still others came just to gab about sex. With the formalities out of the way, Stacia felt free to get down to business and talk about her passion: writing touching love stories (with scorching bedroom scenes, of course).

She first began writing romance novels when she was confronted with hours of spare time after she had put her children to bed every night. After reading multitudes of novels, she resolved that it could not be that difficult, and she decided to try and write. She said, “I got into writing romance novels by the seat of my pants and sheer stupidity.” Her first novel was 70,000 words, and when she tried to sell it to Bantam Books, they told her to shave off 20,000 words. Bowing her head in shame, she admitted to us that she told Bantam that she did not want to cut out any of her book, and that she would like to sell it at 70,000. They rejected her book, and ultimately she sold it to e-Publishers, in the end making a mere twelve dollars.

Lesson one: When a publisher like Bantam Books tells you to shave 20,000 words off your book, shave 20,000 words off your book!

The next novel she wrote she submitted to publishers, and she received the same response: It’s not “zingy” enough. Bottom line: There’s not enough sex. An ordained rabbi is not an occupation one would put in conjunction with a romance novelist. She said, “As a rabbi, I should write less sex.” She even admitted that she has not yet come out to her husband’s congregation (he is also a rabbi). Nevertheless, she unwaveringly declared: “Sex is such a big part of life. Clergy know that we should have good healthy sex lives!” She threw away her inhibitions, and when a well established romance novelist in the Romance Writers of America Guild told her that if she got the hero and heroine in bed by page one, it would get published, she listened. Stacia was able to get them into bed by page two; she submitted the book to Kensington Publications, and three days later she received notice that it would be published. Forty thousand copies of Kiss Me Quick lined the bookshelves of Wal- Marts nationwide and have since sold out.

Lesson two: sex sells.

Lesson three: Rejection is okay.

Stacia was most adamant in stressing this. Rejection is part of the process, and if you enjoy creating a romantic work, then rejection, the time you spend fantasizing (er, working), and the expense you go to is all worth it. She reminded all of the aspiring authors that John Grisham could not get A Time to Kill published. He was rejected one hundred and thirty times; he self-published it and sold it out of his trunk at community book fairs. Don’t give up, she said, “The fun of writing is losing yourself in a book, and the process of submission and rejection is as fun as writing itself.”

One of her last pieces of advice was given with a huge smile, her passion about writing clearly conveyed, she half-jokingly proclaimed, “Surround yourself with crappy books! You read a crappy book and you’ll think, ‘I’m back in the game!'”

Stacia’s final advice: “Writing is fun. It gives you a whole new perspective on things. This should be a blast. If you don’t like it, or you are not having fun, go back to your day job.”

What I learned: Love your job, swallow your inhibitions, and let your imagination go wild! Think tanned muscles beneath the Grecian sun blazing bright in an azure sky…(I know I am).