Growing into romance
Author Melanie Ann Schaeffer found her reading niche when she first encountered romance novels. Writing and reading romance provides her with an occasional welcome escape from reality, and a way of exploring love and humor with boomer-era characters.
How did you discover popular romance?
My family was not a family of readers. My mother read some of the women’s magazines. My grandmother was a one-room school teacher, and she read kids’ papers every night at the kitchen table [. . .]
[. . .] And I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading, but, when I hit the romance novels, I found my niche [. . .]
[. . .] I had a very dear friend who introduced me to a romance novel and said, “You really have to read this, the protagonist is just the cutest thing,” and indeed she was. And that set me to reading Rachel Gibson, and I devoured everything I could find by Rachel Gibson. And after that it was Deirdre Martin, and a number of others, you know [. . .]
Why did romance appeal to you?
I liked the happily ever after. I’m an Elizabethan in that regard. I like that kind of closure and that happily ever after. I liked how fun they were. There was some seriousness in some of them, some seriousness of course, but they were fun. They weren’t heavy. I faced a lot of reality, day in and day out, and when I read a romance novel, it was a way of escaping. A way of living vicariously. I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, and that was a way of taking some of the pressure off. And so, that’s what I liked about it [. . .]
[. . .] And then when I read some of the pieces that set their protagonists and their romantic heroes in the boomer age, the humor. I liked the humor. And uh, that’s what got me into—that and a few other things—got me into the baby boomer sub-genre.
When did you start writing your own novels?
And so it was really that dear friend who got me started. And then, she and I decided, well, we have so many great ideas, we could work together and write a romance novel. And our protagonist was late 20s, and she was, of course, as cute as the proverbial button. And I think we got something like six chapters written, and I would say, looking back at them now, I would give them a C+/B-. Wasn’t the worst, certainly wasn’t the best. But we did have a little bit going for us, and I suspect that we were parroting what we had read.
What did you learn from your MFA program?
[. . .] how to put emotion into your work, how to create conflict. I learned show vs. tell, and how to plan better. I attribute Felicia Mason, who is also a writer and a teacher in this program, to really showing me a super way to plan. And I would attribute my love of my third novella, and the quality of it, to her. I was a high school English teacher for 33 years, and I want to say that what I learned in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill, was of more value to me than any other graduate work or in-services I took. I think it made me a better writing teacher and a better literature teacher. So, win-win.