Squawk Radio

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Okay, stop with the "ews," this is important. Every now and then something happens that renews our faith in the publishing industry and this week that something has happened to me. I have had the pleasure of knowing this extremely talented author for twelve years. She and I joined the local chapter of Romance Writers of America the same year and, serendipitously went on, with Susie Kay law, to form the kernel of the critique group that Got Me Published (and yes, that's the "unkind" critique groups she cites below.) In my opinion, she's always written ahead of the curve, her stories are rich, complex, well-researched (and if you knew her as well as I this would come as no surprise.) Well, this week the curve finally caught up to her and she was offered a contract with Harlequin Superromance. I can say quite honestly, I have never been more happy to present someone. Please join me in welcoming the wonderful, the exceptionally talented, the eber-weeper (she may explain this if pressed)


Part One: The Call

My name is Helen Brenna. With a lot of luck, you may actually recognize that name in a few years time. I just got The Call from Harlequin Superromance, as in sold my first book, last Friday. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. I was ready to quit writing. Forever. Really.

Fifteen years ago, when my daughter was taking two hour naps every afternoon, I sat down to write my first book. What difference did it make that my college degree was in accounting? That CPAs aren’t supposed to be creative? I was a voracious reader. I’d gotten an A in creative writing in high school. I had a computer. If LaVyrle Spencer could do it, I could do it, right?

My first readers, mostly family, were patience and kind, which gave me the courage to join my first critique group. They weren’t quite so Minnesota nice. But I’m thankful for that. They taught me so much. I was an eager student, swallowing my pride and absorbing every tidbit of wisdom any reader, published author, agent, or editor bothered to offer. I went to conferences. I entered contests. I got deservedly sucky scores. I worked and learned and worked and learned some more.

When I finalled in the Golden Heart contest. I thought, “This is it.” About a month later, I got my first agent (the day I came home from the hospital with my second child) and I thought, “I gonna sell for sure.” I didn’t. No one would touch it. How did I know that setting a romance in the Middle East killed a story from an editor’s perspective? They wanted to see anything else I’d written, but I had nothing else publishable.

The let down was terrible. I am not a quitter. I have never quit anything in my entire life. But the Golden Heart is it, baby. If you can’t sell after that, what’s the point? I cried. I got angry. I couldn’t write. I was paralyzed, scared to death of putting tremendous effort into something that once again wouldn’t pan out. Fear is my worst enemy. I quit writing for almost five years.

Over time, creative urges sabotaged me. Stories bounced around in my head. I tried coming to terms with being a good writer stuck in a screwed up system. I tried developing more realistic expectations. I loved writing. Maybe a more marketable setting was the ticket, but I didn’t care if I got published. (Yeah, right. I’m the seventh of eight children. I crave attention.)

I wrote my third book for fun, something that excited me. It didn’t do great in contests. It didn’t sell. It didn’t get me an agent. But I’d enjoyed the process, so I wrote a fourth book. It finalled in the Golden Heart, along with my second book. I was a double finalist! This was it! I had three agents offering me representation. Three! But I’d been in nearly this exact position ten years earlier. I knew what could happen and what might not happen.

Sure enough, during the course of the next year, my worst fears were realized. In one of the most agonizingly slow processes know to womankind, one editor after another turned my book down. Fear threatened to knock the legs out from under me. Again.

I’m not sure I can tell you what was different this time around, except that maybe sheer stubbornness won out. I think I simply refused to let anyone tell me what my dream could be. I’d quit writing when I damned well wanted to quit writing!

My agent stuck with me, bless her heart. Editors loved my writing despite not being able to buy my book, so my agent encouraged me to rework my third book. I was skeptical, but I did it. In fact, I rewrote that darned manuscript three times for three different editors. Finally, I got it right!

Ten years of serious writing, four completed manuscripts, three Golden Heart finals, a Maggie win, too many regional contest finals to count, three critique groups, two agents, and one study group later, I’m finally a published author.

Have you ever tried doing something you didn’t think you could do? Were you scared? Did you do it anyway? What helped you over the hurdles? Would you do it all over again?

Come back later this afternoon and I’ll explain why I think I finally got published.

Helen Brenna was born the seventh of eight children in Smallville, Minnesota. She loved books, particularly romances, and had probably read every one her town’s library had to offer within the first few weeks of the summer after seventh grade. Writing her own stories, on the other hand, was something she’d never considered probable, let alone possible.

She started career life as a CPA, thought she’d end career life as an old CPA, and then she made the decision to stay home with her kids and all things became possible. Her first book, a Harlequin Superromance, will be released in February 2007. She lives in Minnesota with her sweetheart of a husband, two charmed children, two adoring dogs, and three surly (who can blame them?) cats.
Connie Brockway, 9:20 PM