Learning to write romance

Photo, Chalk Heart, Robynlou8, Aug. 28, 2012, Flickr, creative commons
Robynlou8, "Chalk Heart," Flickr, 2012.

Over the years when I have told someone that I study the romance novel, a reaction I have gotten more than once is, “I’ve thought about writing a romance novel.” And more than one speaker has added, “Maybe over the holidays.”

I have developed a stock response. I smile and say, “What on earth is stopping you?” I know full well that writing romance, like writing any kind of fiction, is no holiday lark.

So when I decided to design a romance writing sequence of courses, I proposed them to the Graduate and Professional Studies division of my academic home, McDaniel College, because I knew that romance writing belonged where creative writing programs have long flourished—at the graduate level.

I also knew that the First Principles, McDaniel’s vision statement, which articulates my and my colleagues’ promise to ourselves that we will place our students at the center of a humane environment, coincides perfectly with the values of the romance community, one of the most inclusive, smart, and courteous—humane—communities that I’ve ever been a member of. It’s inclusive, too—it welcomes not only romance readers and writers, but scholars as well. Plus, the romance community is wired: online romance communities are thick on the ground, and McDaniel has long had in place what it takes to deliver online, asynchronous courses.

McDaniel College and the romance community were made for each other.

“Online” and “asynchronous” solved my biggest problem: finding a professor to teach these courses. The first course, Reading the Romance, I could credibly offer. I taught courses in romance literature all the time. But the next four? Writing the Romance I and II, Romance Writing Workshop, and Publishing? Not me. I don’t have experience teaching creative writing beyond non-fiction on the undergraduate level. More crucially, I do not write romance. Alas. This sequence of courses, approved by the college and the Maryland Commission on Higher Education required a professor with the appropriate educational credentials—an MFA—and publishing credentials—in romance.

Luckily, the whole wired world was before me, and somewhere there was a romance writing teacher who would teach for us, because the online-ness meant she (and her students) could be anywhere, and the asynchronous-ness meant that she (and her students) could come to class at any time. It would be teaching and learning that you can do in your pajamas, at 3 am, if that seems best to you.

So just one month after first mentioning the idea of teaching romance writing to McDaniel’s graduate dean, who instantly green-lighted the project, on the morning of March 19, 2012 at 8:37am, I moused over to the “send” button on an email I had written to Jennifer Crusie, New York Times bestselling author of romance, inviting her to join me in designing and teaching a five-course romance writing sequence. I hesitated, wondering if I should send it.

I thought, “All she can say is no. She’s busy—everyone is. But since she’s perfect. . . ” I clicked send.

She said “yes,” and McDaniel added Professor Crusie to our faculty. To say that I was delighted (and I am not particularly bubbly, giddy, effusive, or delightable) is an understatement. Some people are perfect for some jobs. Professor Crusie is perfect for this one. Holding an MFA in fiction, she has a list of more than 20 works of fiction to her name, including the novel that I buy multiple copies of—Bet Me—so I can give one away to folks who’ve never read a romance as good as that one. Professor Crusie has K through grad school teaching experience—and although she had never heard of the First Principles, the profound humanity of her writing and her online presence is exactly what the First Principles describe. So yes, I was delighted.

Seven months, 20 students, and 4,568 Blackboard discussion board posts later (in the first course alone), Reading the Romance closed. A day later the second course, Writing the Romance I, began, and romance writing instruction at McDaniel was off and running. In the first cohort of students, we ended up with folks on the roster from as far away as the UK and Japan.

The students—enlightened, taught, supported, cheer-led, and well, delighted is probably not quite the right word for the painful joy of drafting and revising a creative work—joined the long line of creative writing students in graduate programs in one of the handful of grad programs worldwide that teach romance writing.

Pamela Regis

Pamela Regis is a professor of English at McDaniel College and author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Find out more about Pamela Regis.

Share this