Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Man In The Wilderness

by Kevin Symmons
(note from Rhonda Penders - Kevin is an author with The Wild Rose Press and asked to be a guest blogger on our site in anticipation of the RWA National Conference this year being held in Anaheim, California beginning July 25.)

I ran to catch the elevator at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C. It was a humid July afternoon at the 2009 Nationals. I was returning to the building after having been shuttled outside with thousands of other guests. It was the day after the horrific Mumbai terrorist attacks and something had happened. We spent thirty minutes sweating in the noontime heat and were allowed to return to the hotel never to discover what the threat had been. Many slept with one eye open and our running shoes next to the bed that night. I know I did! Some initiation for a first-time National Conference attendee. But threats and paranoia aside, I was pleased with myself. I’d met Donald Maass, esteemed literary agent, in the coffee line, Nora Roberts in the lobby and been inspired by a talk from Eloisa James, whose latest Duchess novel I had recently finished.I caught the elevator and got in with two charming and lovely attendees whose name tags I sneaked a look at. No household names, but both wore the PAN label I coveted.They looked at me, my name tag and then each other. 
To say they wore curious expressions would be an exercise in understatement. I nodded politely and turned around to press my floor, when one of the women cleared her throat, took my arm, and asked me, “What are you doing here?”Pushy, yes…but nonetheless a good question, I thought as I swallowed deeply? After all, I was a man. One of a tiny handful, hopelessly outnumbered by this feminine army of more than 2,500 romance writers. I was well aware of the sobering statistic that 98-plus percent of all romance novels were written by women. A lesser man might have skulked away and huddled in the corner, but in an earlier life I’d been tested in the scorching fires of what were euphemistically known as America’s “smokestack” industries. I’d suffered a brutal trial by ordeal! These women were way out of their league.I smiled; mustering every ounce of sweetness I possessed and answered, “I write romance novels. How about you?”They stole a glance at each other and nodded politely. We finished our brief encounter with a pleasant thirty seconds of conversation before reaching our respective floors.But their question was on point. Very much so. 
My reading tastes had always included McCullough, Ellis and Nathaniel Philbrick. I enjoyed novels, but denser, more intense offerings like those of Ken Follett or literary things like Cold Mountain, The Kite Runner and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. When I’d contemplated my maiden voyage to the Nationals, part of my soul said, “Save the money and stay home!” I’d been mentored by talented and prolific author (and past RWA President) Jo Ann Ferguson (aka Jocelyn Kelley). Jo Ann helped build my sagging confidence by reassuring me that RWA had once been lead by Harold Lowry, aka Leigh Greenwood… a man! I had also read many offerings of Nicholas Sparks and a talented author named Richard Paul Evans. But their work was women’s fiction not pure romance (too many POVs and too few HEA endings!) I knew the odds were still stacked heavily against me.Perhaps it was my masochistic nature or pure stubbornness, but despite the sobering statistics and veritable mountain of information that should have dissuaded me from this absurd, alien pursuit, for some reason, when I sat down at my laptop what emerged was a novel that quickly morphed into a romance titled When Summer Ends (aka Landfall) with little or no help from its author.
For even novitiate authors this spontaneous development of character and plot is well known. One of my favorite workshop leaders, Kate Flora, told a wonderful story about what Stephen King refers to as this organic approach to writing. Kate explained that she had gone home late one night to take her heroine out for a drive so they could come to an understanding. Non-writers would have tiptoed out the back door and called the shrinks. But after working on my first novel for only a month I knew exactly what she was talking about. The characters and plot did seem to grow organically on their own.As I stood in the Marriott lobby waiting for my friends and surveyed the attendees I did have a moment of self doubt. Did I, a humble squire, belong here with these queens and princesses, the royalty of the romance genre? Damn right, I did!
For the next two days I attended every class and workshop I could, finding a special interest in those that dealt with the paranormal. By the time I got back to my Cape Cod home, an idea had begun to take shape. After seemingly endless hours of analysis and tutorials on vampires, witches (my personal favorite), daemons and zombies, what had been an unassuming YA project would be transformed into a paranormal. Courtney, my beautiful young heroine, would become the embodiment of a thousand year-old Wiccan Goddess.Apparently the paranormal thing was the charm (excuse the pun!). After two novels and many rejections, Rite of Passage sold to The Wild Rose Press in September of 2011.The talented and charming young editor of this specialty romance house who bought the novel actually told me that, “Some of the most insightful authors she’d shared the podium with were actually men!” Now, we have a wonderful working relationship and I mean no disrespect but it does bring home my point. My publisher has over 300 authors. How many men? Though the pseudonym thing is difficult to breakthrough, if you said three you’d win the grand prize.
Why am I writing this? It’s simple. In hopes that the next time an elevator full of you lovely, talented mavens of romance spy a man with a badge (one that relates to a conference and is not accompanied by a gun and a set of handcuffs) you’ll take pity on him… or us and the tiny minority who’ve decided to pursue this difficult path to literary success.If you want to hear more or pursue the discussion in depth, join me and Arlene Kay, my writing partner at this year’s NEC-RWA where we’ll be presenting a unique and fun-filled session titled, “He said… She Said.” That’s right—it’s all about the male/female perspective in romance writing!Hope to see you there!ë 
Writer, college faculty member, and president of one of the Northeast’s most respected writing organizations, Kevin Symmons most recent work, Rite of Passage, is a paranormal tale to keep you turning pages late into the night. His other efforts include Voices, a sweeping women’s fiction work that brings to light the tragic problem of domestic violence in contemporary America. He has also collaborated with award winning screenwriter, playwright, and Professor Barry Brodsky who has adapted one of Kevin’s story ideas to the screen. Kevin is currently at work on his next novel, a romantic thriller set near his Cape Cod home. Visit him at


Online EBooks said...

That is just awesome thing to share here. I am new to your blog but loving your writing skills and travel adventures. Some very vital things to bear in mind while traveling. thanks for sharing.

Tricia Schneider said...

I enjoyed reading this, Kevin! One of the very first romance novels was written by a man; PAMELA by Samuel Richardson. It was a bestseller in the late 1700's. Seems you're in good company! :) Thank you for posting!

kevin symmons said...

Tricia, thanks for your comments. And yes, I have seen PAMELA referred to as THE first novel. It was fun and I was very appreciative of TWRP for giving my observations a broader audience. In the years since the events in the blog things have changed little. I was fortunate enough to present at a regional conference this spirng and was the only male writer at a 200 person event!

Love Stories said...

Kevin, I'm a little late to the party, but great post. And there are probably more aspiring male romance writers than you realize. I know back in about 2005/6 when I first started submitting manuscripts to Harlequin there were a few guys that were doing the same. You should see if you can get some kind of community going for the guys!