Romance Writers of America converge on Denver for four-day event
July 18, 2018
Helen Hardt's life has unfolded a bit like a modern-day Cinderella story, in terms of finding the perfect fit.
Since first grade, Hardt yearned to be a writer, making up fantastical places in a world, in which Cinderella would dream of living.
While, in the fairytale, Cinderella didn't have a gown to wear to the grand ball, in real life, Hardt didn't have a book to read on the airplane. Sure, it sounds very disparate. But it turned out that when both Cinderella and Hardt set their mind on what they needed, it manifested: Cinderella's horse-drawn carriage arrived along with a glistening gown, while Hardt's, though not as "sparkly," made just as much impact on her life. A romantic could argue that not only Cinderella, but also Hardt had a fairy godmother looking after them.
As Hardt browsed through the airport bookstore on a September day in 2006, she picked up "Morrigan's Cross" by Nora Roberts. As a kid, she read all the Malt Shop books, Judy Blume books and then Nora Roberts. When she finished "Morrigan's Cross" she asked herself, "Why did I stop reading romances?"
So, she devoured more.
Making a Name For Herself
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Hardt's fairy godmother didn't need to meddle in affairs of the heart — Hardt had married in 1989, and when her husband — whom she met in law school (yes, Hardt is not only a best-selling author, but also an attorney) was about to make partner, and the kids were grown, so her fairy godmother decided it was time to pull at other parts of Hardt's heartstrings.
It took her 10 years to make a name for herself, but what a name it is: New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal named her the No. 1 bestselling author of contemporary and historical romance and erotica.
She hadn't studied fiction, but she joined the Colorado Romance Writers of America chapter (of which she's now president), attended RWA conferences, pitched to editors and learned a lot from their feedback. She also took online class and entered plenty of contests. Though the first time she received criticism, "I felt like hurling myself off a cliff," she said, jokingly, "but, instead, I drank a little wine and ate some chocolate and moved on." She also incorporated the editorial advice.
"The first feedback is going to be hard to take, but it is so valuable," Hardt said. "It spurred me into taking action."
'The More Conflict, The Better'
She also realized she had a knack for editing, so that became her day job. Ironically, one of her clients, Meredith Wild, ended up starting a publishing company called Waterhouse Press. Hardt exchanged her editing skills to learn more about marketing, and now she has 34 books on the market.
She credits much of her learning to conferences like the Romance Writers of America conference July 18-21 in Denver (it travels throughout the country annually, so she's happy it's in her home state). She views it as a great opportunity to network with authors and editors, as wall as a means for motivation.
She admits romance is the "red-headed stepchild" of fiction (Cinderella, yet again), but just about every element that results in a great literary piece goes into a romance. First, it's driven by conflict.
"The more conflict, the better," she said. "It keeps you turning pages. Without conflict, you don't have a story."
Characters — especially the main character — must exhibit growth after facing obstacles deterring them from their goals.
It just so happens that in romances, readers must find a happy ending (as opposed to erotica or literary pieces, which don't necessary need a happy ending).
"Romance is uplifting," she said.
'Ideas' Are Out There
So many things inspire her — song lyrics, images, art and dreams.
"Ideas are always out there," she said, adding that it's just a matter of crafting it into form.
For example, an image from "Mystic River," in which a child is tortured in a dark, concrete basement haunted her. She began to wonder how such a trauma would affect two brothers of the victim. Sounds like an idea to hang maybe one book on, but Hardt's vivid imagination resulted in nine books about the Steel brothers.
Romance Writers in Denver
This year at the Romance Writers of America event in Denver, a few of the featured speakers include Pintip Dunn, a best selling, Harvard magna cum laude graduate; Erica Ridley, best-selling historical romance; and Sonali Dev, who writes Bollywood-style love stories.
Workshops include all kinds of tools and tricks of the craft.
Even though Hardt has completed 34 books, her happily ever after story is hardly over. In fact, she's delving into the blood-feasting world of vampires and the paranormal, with a tortured hero and feisty heroine and plenty of emotion, steamy sex and cliffhangers.
The Romance Writers of America presents a chance for romance writers — and readers — to find their "glass slipper," where magic occurs. And even when the carriage turns into a pumpkin (as it often does for writers halfway through their manuscript), the indelible memory lingers, waiting to bring blank pages to life.
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