Vol. 15, No. 34, February 17, 2003

Romance on Valentine’s Day

Jane Gaskins, writing under the name of Jane Porter, gave a fascinating picture of how a person makes it big time in the field of romance novels. A native Californian, Jane moved to the Puget Sound area seven years ago, bringing with her a career as a writer.

Jane Porter

As described on her website, Jane noted that the “year my family spent in Europe when I was 13 made a tremendous impression on me. I had been writing since I was five, and that European visit gave me a different perception of the world.” Appropriately appearing on Valentine’s Day, Porter said she found the “right recipe in writing steaming, sexy novels.”

Jane, married with two young sons, connected instantly with her audience when she told the BBRC that “all my family were Rotarians. My grandfather was district governor in his California district and my father and uncles were members.” She also said that since coming to the area, BBRC member Rick McManus has been her optometrist.

Jane laid a foundation by talking about the romance novel industry. In 2002, it grossed $1.52 billion. So, what’s it all about? “Writing romance novels gives the reader a power, a  validation about themselves. It’s a way to freely express our (women’s) world. A lot of trust is placed in us as women. We are left behind to be strong, to be the family. We are constantly asked to make things right. We’re the ones asked to ease the pain. It’s not because we have to, but because we can.”

So, what is love? Jane said, “As people, we need each other. There’s a great deal of pain in women’s lives. From birth to death, our lives are often painful. We do absolutely anything to protect our children, our family. This develops us into fierce women. And, that’s why we need our own novels. We need joy and laughter into our lives and the novel brings that to women.”

She continued, “Women are magicians. We work magic. Roses can’t make up for a year of hard days. But, we believe in happy endings. It becomes up to us to pass on the sparkle in life, to show that our real life is better than fiction. Look at the choices we’ve made to love other people … what we do touches and enriches our lives for everyone around us.”

Porter observed the “romance novel says there’s dirty, grimy stuff in life. But, I’m gonna stay here and fight. We women are protagonists. We don’t have to pull back in our books. We have a tremendous heart and passion for others and ourselves. What we do day in and day out is essential to the well-being of the family and the world.”

This fiery young writer showed the remarkable enthusiasm she has for living and for the work she does. Her books are sold in 27 countries, translated into 16 languages. She’s relatively new to the publishing field, having sold her first book in only January 2000. “I  played life good and safe for a long time. My Dad died at 46 of a heart attack. His death told me that I should go for what I could do best. I was an English teacher, and one of my students asked me, ‘Why don’t you become a writer?’”

Bell, Porter
Mary Bell and Jane Porter

Jane continued, “I had always an interest in writing. I would require my students to keep a daily journal, so they knew of my interest. So, I decided to stay home and write. I struggled for 12 years, accepting many rejections. Then, I found out what the industry really wanted and made that first sale. These are little books as books go. It is really easy. I write an average of five books a year, and today, they’re selling hot. I’m riding the wave!”

Her publisher, Harlequin, introduces the books first in England. Then, they are translated and make their way through the distribution system to the other countries in the different languages. “For me,” said Jane, “life is totally different now. My advice is to hang on for what is you.”

Then came a barrage of questions.

    Q – Any advice for newly weds?
    A – Living with men is really hard! Keep wooing your loved one.

    Q – Describe the sensation of being published. A – My family didn’t think I could do it. So, I kept on trying. Financially, one published book is the same as a year of teaching. I’m the first American author bought by the publisher in 10 years.

    Q – Bill Schultheis, himself a writer, said, “I’ve read her books and I’ve never had more excitement in my life!” So, Jane, what’s next?
    A – There’s no market for more serious books. I’d rather do that, but I have a fear that I would want to change.” She said she had not resubmitted any of her old manuscripts.

    Q – Describe your schedule.
    A – I write a book every nine weeks, and take a few months off each year. I keep writing because there are lots of different ways to learn and succeed. That year in Europe changed my life. I encourage kids to write.

    Q – Where do you get your ideas?
    A – I’m passionate about culture. I study people around me. I don’t use real people in my books.

    Q – Why these shorter stories?
    A – The books are driven by word length – 50,000 to 75,000 words. These books are sold cheap, and each month there’s a new issue. This means I have about a 3-week window to sell my current book. Business drives what I do.

    Q – What have you learned from all of this?
    A – I learned a lot from rejection letters. I’ve talked in person to the people who determine whether you’ll be published. From them, I learned much. Best advice is write about what you know.

Hemphill, Porter
Dale Hemphill & Jane Porter

For her lively presentation, the Club afforded her a healthy round of applause. President Shrader gave her the certificate noting the BBRC had purchased 240 doses of polio vaccine in her name.

Thanks to Rourke O’Brien for securing Jane Porter for today’s program. And, thanks to Mary Bell for substituting for Rourke, who had taken off for three weeks in Ireland.

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