Writing on a dare
Crystal began writing romance novels on a dare from her grandmother, an avid romance reader who introduced her to paranormal and science fiction romances. Her mother was an avid reader of romance novels also, but she is partial to historicals. Crystal read her first romance novel at age 11, when her mother wasn’t looking.
What explains the power of genre fiction?
There are so many romance writers who they wanted to be a writer forever, and this is what they longed to do as a child, and they were writing stories at two years old. No, not me. I was a nerd. I was going into academia. I knew where I was headed. And I read avidly, but that’s what I did on the side.
So when I got out of school, after many years in university, graduate school and got my first real job, and there was no homework after I got home. There was nothing to do and I was reading, reading, reading, and I was burning myself out with reading because I was reading so much. And I was on the phone with my grandmother, who is also an avid romance reader. She was the one who first got me into paranormal science fiction romance, because my mom is straight historical romance. It’s funny how they all have their preferences. But I was on the phone with her, going “This author, they ruined the book. They killed my favorite secondary character. It was awful. They did a terrible job.” And my grandmother is like, “Well, if you think you can do better.” And I’m like, “Well, fine. Fine, I will. Watch me.” And I quickly learned to have a deeper sympathy for that author that I had complained about, because it’s not as easy as it looks.
Crystal has now published close to 30 e-books, print books, and novellas.
I’m a university librarian and a romance scholar in my work life, and a romance writer in my evening life—I guess my nightlife.
Most of us who have become writers were readers for many, many years, and we consumed anything in sight. And whether we knew it or not, we were doing market research, and we were studying the competition and studying trends.
Within two weeks of becoming a writer, Crystal discovered she could find help online.
I think I had about four posts on my blog, my brand new blog, and the owner of Romance Divas, or one of the two, Kristen Painter, came on my blog and left a comment. And I was like, “Who’s this?” because no one was commenting on my blog. I’m not exactly famous. So I just sort of followed the links back, and lo and behold, found Romance Divas. And it is a website that is by and for romance writers, and they have a forum that you could join and I did. And it’s where anything from someone like me who’d been writing for two whole weeks, to New York Times bestsellers can find the kind of information that they want. And it can be everything from, “Here’s the big market news” to “If you need a critique partner, because you really want to take your writing to the next level, we have places where you can find those, and see other people who have similar interests or who are writing in the same genre, and you need to ask a question.” And there are also places where you get to have a moment for a connection with other people, because writing is a very solitary profession. And you’re often keeping company with yourself and your computer most of the day.
The biggest thing is to always remain flexible and always be willing to try out new things. And maybe that’s not the advice other people would give you, sort of “find your niche and stay there,” but I like to try different things. So I really loved paranormal, so I stayed with that for a long time. It just got darker and dirtier—much, much dirtier. And I wrote a story that was actually contemporary, dirty, and sold it. And then, did a shapeshifter futuristic, and sold that to an e-publisher.
Is popular romance a reflection of what’s happening in the world?
It gives people a moment where they can step back from a life that may be falling apart, where you can go to a movie or you can read a book for $5.00, and escape the fact that you just got laid off or your husband did, or the economy is not looking so good. And maybe your brother is in Iraq right now. Sometimes you need a moment where you’re just like, “I don’t want to deal with this right now. I just want to go and have my happy ending, and know that everything is going to be okay at the end of this book, because it’s not looking so fabulous here.” So I think that people need that escapism, and I think that what is popular is definitely a reflection on what is going on in the world, and I think it’s always going to be. And I think there are always going to be trends that sort of fit into this. And I think the erotic is part of that, as well. There are studies that have talked about kinky sex being on the rise in America and everybody’s trying it. So why wouldn’t they want to try it in their fiction, too?