Monday, April 27, 2009

Gypsy Lady . . . writing the first novel

Originally published in December 1977, by Avon Books, GYPSY LADY was my first book. Not only the first book I'd written that was published, but the first book I'd ever written. Fate is a funny thing and fate very definitely played a role in my becoming an author. 

I'd always been a voracious reader and my husband, Howard, once said, "Gee, if we could turn the time you spend reading, into writing, our fortunes would be made." He was kidding, but the thought stuck. I even, at his insistence, signed up for that Famous Writer's Course you used to see advertised all over the place. It was a three year course, 36 lessons (I think). I played at it and after four years (they gave me a year's extension) had only completed 6 lessons. After awhile, I realized I wasn't going to finish the course and so put it away. A writing career obviously wasn't for me. 

Probably a decade later, while I working as a draftsman for the Solano County Assessor's office, the Solano County Parks Department moved into offices down the hall from the drafting department. Dean Kastens was the Parks Director and his secretary was, Rosemary Rogers. Yeah, that Rosemary Rogers. Rosie had noticed me in the ladies lounge reading on my breaks, noticed what I was reading and we began to talk and a friendship sprang up. 

Friend or not, no one was more surprised than I was the day she burst into the ladies lounge with the news that she'd sold her first book! Like many beginning authors, Rosie had never breathed a word that she was writing a book, much less had submitted for publication. Wow. Pretty exciting stuff, I can tell you. 

Naturally, I was curious (read fascinated). Here was this friend, someone I knew personally, that had had a book published. Over the course of time, the notion that I might write a book took hold -- especially, after I got to read SWEET SAVAGE LOVE. Talk about knock your socks off! It was incredible and at that time, like nothing I'd ever read. 

While Rosie worked on her second book, THE WILDEST HEART, as I watched her fingers fly across the typewriter (yes, it was that long ago), the idea of writing a book, a historical romance, sort of came to the forefront of my mind. 

One day I was taking my coffee break at her desk and she was grabbing a few minutes to work on THE WILDEST HEART and she said something like, "I've got them up on this damn mountain and I don't know how to get them down." I stared at her in amazement. "What do you mean, you don't know how to get them down -- you're the author! You know everything," I said. She said, "I don't know everything. I know how the book begins. I know certain things will happen. I know how it will end -- but I don't know how to get them off the mountain." 

Don't ask me why, but that was an "ah ha!" moment for me. I looked at her a long moment and finally said, "You know I think I could do that." She looked back and said simply, "Do it!" So I did. GYPSY LADY was the result of following Rosie's orders. 

Now having decided that I was going to write a book didn't make it happen any time soon. For eighteen long months all I had to show for my efforts were four handwritten pages in a yellow, lined, legal tablet. Yep. That was it. Eighteen months worth of work -- four pages. I dreaded going to work on Monday because the first words out of Rosie's mouth were, "How much did you get done on the book?" 

Eventually, it dawned on me that if I was going to write a book, that I was going to have to concentrate, put in the hours, spend the time and write the bloody thing. It was hard, I was working full time, but with Howard's encouragement and understanding, the pages began to add up. We rented a typewriter and the legal table scrawl finally began to look like a manuscript. 

When I had about 250 pages, Rosie ripped it out of my hands and sent it off to her editor, Nancy Coffey at Avon Books. To my stunned delight, in due course (months later) I got the letter: Avon wanted to publish GYPSY LADY. And that dear reader, is how GYPSY LADY came into being and I became a writer.


Coming - the characters from Gypsy Lady - stay tuned!


  1. Hi Shirlee. I loved Gypsy Lady. I must have been in jr. high when I read it. No, my mother had no idea what I was reading LOL.

    Please do talk about the characters. I put Jason Savage up there as a great hero (although I'm not sure if I like him more than Morgan Slade or Rafael Santana).

    Between you, Jennifer Wilde and Kathleen Woodiwiss, my fate to write was sealed. Also, the attention to American history in some of your novels pushed me towards history as a college major.

  2. Hi, just found your blog. I LOVE your books (old ones especially). I'd be interested to know if your backlist will ever be released in digital format. I have them all, but with my handy-dandy eReader I'd love to carry them around and read them whenever the mood strikes.

    My second romance ever was Gypsy Lady and I've been reading all your books since. It's nice that you'll be revisiting them. My all-time favorite is While Passion Sleeps, hope you'll write about that as well.

  3. Hello Shirlee.

    I was given While Passion Sleeps by a friend when I was thirteen years old, and ever since you have been the inspiration behind my dream to become a romance author myself. I managed to procure Gypsy Lady not long after and those two books remain (as well as Tiger Lily) my favourites.

    Thank you for posting this journal entry. It gives me a little hope that while I've got absolutely nowhere with my dream (aside from an almost full to bulging folder of ideas), I can still get there eventually!

    When I've got a little more money saved up I'll be buying your new 'Becomes Her' series. :) The very best of luck to you for all your future writings.

    Best wishes,


  4. I just found this blog - love your books so I had to check it out. I was on your website trying to see what I might have missed. I have missed a few books, and I know I will be buying them soon. I loved Gypsy Lady, and all the books that followed. Thank you and please keep writing.

  5. Hi Everyone: Wow! I REALLY need to pay attention to my blog. Thank you all for writing. Loved your comments. GYPSY LADY will always hold a big place in my heart -- she started my career as a writer. And Jason Savage is one of my all time favorite males, along with Morgan Slade and Rafael Santana.
    It's interesting reading your comments. I'm curious -- what do you think is the appeal of the earlier books as opposed to the ones I write now? Ta, Shirlee

  6. Hello Shirlee!!
    I am very Happy because you answered me, in fact i cannot believe it still!!. I'm Communicate immediately with my husband to tell him!.
    You know i found in Argentina two of your novels of the series luisiana, Don't deceive my heart and While passion sleeps, in fact they come to me the same week and I am doubly satisfied and happy!!
    And answering to your question on which the first novels have that you wrote to which you write now. I'm read one only that Surender becomes her, and I believe that it is the personality of the protagonists, a strong, determined protagonist and beautiful, it is a great attraction as(like) reading, apart from such enigmatic, manly and atractive masculine protagonist you create.
    Unfortunaly your novels don't come to my city, and is very difficult get your new novels.
    Tankyou again..

    Sincerly: Rossana Zuñiga

    p.d. I love that you like my name.

  7. Beautiful story (or history?... I forgot -sorry for my English-).
    I liked that novel (if there had not been one or two details, I think it would have been perfect). The main characters are a nice couple in all the ways and the story is very original.


  8. I'm so honored to get in line to leave my love for Shirlee! And if Rosemary we're here I'd leave my love for her, too. They are two of my all time favorite authors.

    I never dreamed that one day I would be a writer, too. It was definitely due to these two women that I became such an avid reader. Their books opened up a whole new world to me and I've been hooked since I read the first one.

    Thank you Shirlee, for being such a big part of my life!

  9. Hi KT. Zounds! What a wonderful comment. Thrills me that I had something to do with you wanting to be writer. Thanks you so much for a comment that put a big smile on my face. Shirlee