The road to romance

Jill Shalvis remembers growing up a “very natural L.A. girl.” She never left the valley in her youth, spending her time on the beach—and in the fiction section of the library. Today, she writes category and single-title romance novels, including the Lucky Harbor books. How did she get from beach girl to bestselling author?


How did you start writing romance?

I was kind of an unhappy kid, kind of a bookworm, nerd, wallflower, kind of an invisible-type kid. And so fiction transformed my life; it took me to worlds that I wanted to live in and be a part of. And so it was very natural once I started reading to inhale the entire fiction section of the library and then to start writing my own stories, to tell myself stories. So I’d stay up late at night with the flashlight and the pad or paper underneath the covers and I’d write myself short stories, just tell myself stories.

And then I became a senior in high school and had to start to thinking about college. And so I signed up for journalism. I thought, “I’ll be a journalism major.” So I went to Cal State, Northridge, which—still in the valley, didn’t venture too far, and I started writing nonfiction stories. And I thought —at that time I thought, “Well, you know, I’ll be a—maybe a newscaster or something.” But I wasn’t blonde enough or pretty enough at the time; that’s what was the hottest thing—so I began writing more. And then I would want to embellish these stories and I would say to my teacher, “Well, what’s that called?” And he’d say, “Lying!” You know, “You can’t do that.” So I switched over to fiction and there I found where I was supposed to be. Then I could make everything up, do whatever I wanted, create a world and add stuff into the stories.

When I left college I couldn’t get a job in journalism and I started doing accounting. I was a book—full-charge bookkeeper working—using the other side of my brain, which, you know, was a challenge. I’d do accounting all day and come home and write stories at night and definitely hurt my brain. But, you know, the love of writing couldn’t be quelled even though I couldn’t find a job or an outlet and at that point I had never thought of being a novelist, it still hadn’t occurred to me. And I kept reading and kept reading and then somehow I switched from reading historicals to contemporaries and I found Nora Roberts and Diana Gabaldon and still found that you didn’t have to be in the past to create a whole world—you could do it in the contemporary world.

So I started writing short contemporary stories and I actually published a few in a few magazines. And then I got laid off. I was pregnant and nothing to do, no accounting job, so I started writing a book. I started page one and I went straight through without looking up and finished it, sent it off, and started writing another book. And before I’d finished that second book, I’d gotten a call on the first book and I sold it to Bantam Loveswept which at the time which was a contemporary, kind of a contemporary of Harlequin, you know, category romance.

And I remember the editor called me up and I had a newborn and a two-year old and a four-year old, and I had the one potty-training in the bathroom and the editor calls up and says, “I loved your book. I’d like to buy it.” And then from down the hall in the bathroom you hear, “Mom, wipe me.” And I’m trying to talk —have this professional conversation with this editor and I have a baby throwing up on my shoulder and I have a kid in the bathroom and needed help. And thankfully, the editor was very understanding and said, “Call me back when you have a few minutes.”

And you know, it was before the days of Punk’d, but I was sure that someone was making this—you know, surely, she couldn’t really be. So I finally screwed up enough courage to call her back and she said, “Yes, we want your book. If you could add some S-E-X into it, then it would be perfect.” So at—that’s how I got into romance.

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