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Spotlight: Romance writer pursues adventure
By Kevin Brown
Romance novelist Susan Charnley is a U-M secretary by day, searching for files, editing papers, formatting Web pages, greeting guests, and more. But the wife and mother of two grown sons, who holds a doctorate in English literature, also gets favorable reviews from critics and grateful fans for her novels.
"There was something that happened once that totally blew me away; at a writers conference a novice writer came up to me said 'You're Sue Charnley, you're my hero,'" she recalls. "When I asked why, the author explained it was the speed with which I achieved a New York publishing contract that she hoped to emulate."
(Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)
"What I find most pleasant about writing is pretty much what I find pleasant about reading—the discovery of new people, new worlds, new ways of looking at things. And then there's the adventure or journey found in every good story," says Charnley, secretary to Jyoti Mazumder, the Robert H. Lurie Professor of Engineering, in the CLAIM lab of the Mechanical Engineering Department.
Charnley has published four books. The most recent is "A True and Perfect Knight," set in medieval times. It is about a man and woman forced to marry to please their king. Their initial distrust turns to love. Amazon.com ( http://amazon.com/ )reports that romance novels make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. paperback market.
In romance tradition, the cover of the novel features a drawing of an attractive woman with shoulders bared, and a man with shirt open to the navel. Charnley, who stresses that Dorchester Publishing came up with the cover art, prefers the art selected for the cover of her earlier book, "The Catnapped Lover," a romantic romp set in Hamburg, Mich. "I love the cat in Groucho glasses. That cover really expresses the spirit of the story without telling too much," Charnley says. "Policies on cover art vary from publisher to publisher."
Her interest in storytelling began as a young child listening to fairy tales spun by her grandfather. "At age 7, I started writing poetry for my mother," Charnley says. "Later, I wrote for grade school, middle school and high school creative writing annuals. I took creative writing classes as an undergraduate, but it wasn't until I finished my doctoral thesis that I believed I could actually complete an entire novel."
Charnley says her first manuscript ended up in a trash bin. Her first published book was a short contemporary romance titled, "The Cowboy and the Caddy," submitted to E-publisher Hard Shell Word Factory in early 1999. It still is available.
"I write romance because I like happy endings and infinite variety," Charnley says. "Too many times I hear people say that romance novels are all the same, and that is just not true. I've rarely read a romance novel that fits a mold or template. I'm fortunate enough to have an office at home where I can shut out the noise of the house and concentrate on discovering characters and what they are doing." When she's working on a novel, Charnley can produce 5-10 pages in the three hours between dinner and bedtime.
"The keys to writing a good romance are the same as writing any good novel," she says. "Know your craft; write what you love to read; revise until you're sick of the story and then revise some more. Those are simple statements, but any author, regardless of genre, will tell you that the work is more complex than most people realize.
"I get a full range of reactions from people. Most of my family is supportive but doesn't really understand the genre or the compulsion to write. Most of my friends are authors or readers, so every step in the writing-publishing process is cause for discussion and often celebration. My co-workers have been very supportive. A few have even purchased copies of my books," she says.
The author anticipates having her Web site, www.susancharnley.com ( http://www.susancharnley.com/ ), up and running by July 2006. Charnley has a dark paranormal romance currently under consideration by Silhouette Books, Inc. The book already has won Charnley recognition as a finalist in a contest run by the Heartland Romance Author's group in northwest Missouri.
In the meantime, Charnley is hard at work on a light paranormal romance that she hopes will be the first in a seven-book series.