by Jane Primerano
Jersey Girl Brewery proved beer tasting goes very well with romance novels on Sat., Nov. 5.
A group of writers from Romance Writers of New Jersey gathered at the Mt. Olive brewery to taste beer and talk to their fans.
The event was the brainchild of RWNJ President and Mt. Olive resident Roni Denholtz, who had attended a similar event organized by Roz Lee of Columbia. Lee set up a wine tasting with romance writers at Brook Hollow Winery in Knowlton Township. Denholtz attended and “on the way home I started thinking, where could I hold a similar event. Then I remembered Jersey Girl.”
Denholtz has lived in Mt. Olive for more than 30 years. She taught for years at the township’s adult school and has seen some of her writing students get published. With seven romance novels published, she is in the process of revising two more.
“I started revising one before the other was finished,” she said.
Lee writes both mainstream and what she calls “kinky” books. ‘Roz Lee’ is her nom de plume for those. The more mainstream stories are published under her real name, Dolores W. Maroney.
“I used to read romances as a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “My girls teased me that I read so many I could write my own. But they didn’t think I could. I took it as a challenge. After 25 books they don’t tease me anymore.”
Another local writer is Maryann McFadden of Hackettstown.
McFadden has published three romances, the first of which was her masters’ thesis in an MFA program. She self-published that book, then got a contract from a publisher.
Her next book is a fictionalization of the Tillie Smith murder at what was then Centenary Collegiate Institute in 1886, “Finding Tillie.” She is using the premise of a modern-day heroine looking into the past. “Her journey becomes an obsession,” she said of her heroine.
McFadden has to please two audiences with the Tillie book: locals who want every detail of the murder retold and non-locals who may feel bogged down. She is putting some details not in the book on her website, she said.
She decided to write this book because “Tillie was a footnote in her own story,” McFadden said. Other studies of the murder concentrated on the crime, or the accused murderer, Jim Titus. Ironically, in her other career, as a real estate agent, she sold Titus’s Hackettstown house.
M. Kate Quinn of Marlboro says she has written all her life and full-time for 10 years. She entered a Writer’s Digest magazine short story contest and won, “so I thought I should take my writing more seriously.”
Jean Joachim explained after her children left for college, “characters I had been thinking about stayed in my kitchen and said, ‘you WILL write our story’.” The other authors agreed they also have characters who won’t leave them alone.
She said writing romances is “a happy way to spend time.”
“I like bringing people to happily ever after,” Joachim said.
Joachim belongs to New York Romance Writers in the city, but she said it is not as active as the NJ or Long Island chapters. She writes the Manhattan Dinner Club series as well as series about baseball and football players.
Themed books and series sell well, all of the writers insisted.
Miriam Allenson combines baseball and opera in her newest book. “I was a closet writer for years,” she said.
G. E. Taylor of Sparta is representative of many romance writers. She started reading them as a teenager and “was always inspired to write one.”
Ruth Casie started reading them when she traveled for work. She found them compact and easy to carry and equally easy to leave behind.
During a slow time in the afternoon, five of the writers sat around a table among their books and small bowls of leftover Halloween candy and discussed the art of crafting romance novels.
They said most sales are in Middle America, where what East Coast readers call “beach reads” are known as “summer reads.” Shirley Hallstock said the other three states that have many romance readers are California, Texas and Maine.
They compared marketing techniques. Hallstock said she bought a few Kindles on a good sale and used them as promotional gifts. Smaller promotional items, such as pens, refrigerator magnets, little footballs to squeeze for relaxation, one of the most popular is Nancy Herkness’ pen that doubles as a back scratcher.
All of the women credited the romance writers groups as invaluable. They get tips from more experienced writers on agents, publishers, marketing and other issues. Hallstiock pointed out many new writers don’t realize how responsible they must be for their own marketing.
Casie did marketing for JP Morgan Chase. Hallstock worked for Johnson & Johnson. Several of the authors, including McFadden and Hallbeck, wrote for newspapers or took other writing assignments before launching their careers as authors.
They also agreed the beer tasting/book signing was a great combination and look forward to more similar events.