One of the things I love about writing romance is the feel of community. People who read and/or write romance seem to enjoy being with others who have a similar love for romance. Whether it's online or face to face or even (yes, still) via snail mail, the contact is real and fun and so encouraging.
Over the years I've come to expect other writers to be supportive. Not that I take it for granted, but I know so many fabulous women who write romance, that their enthusiasm and generosity seems normal to me now.
What I didn't expect when I started out was how much I'd get from readers. I love reader feedback on my books. I adore it if someone recommends one of my books to their friends or takes the time to post a review. But in addition to that, I've also learned a stack from readers about things that are invaluable.
Damaso Claims His Heir is a case in point. I decided to write a Brazilian hero, a self-made man who grew up in the slums and turned himself into such a successful entrepreneur that he'd never again be touched by the things that haunted him as a kid, like hunger and danger. Of course, jettisoning his past isn't quite so easy, but that's what makes him so interesting.
Why he had to live in Brazil I don't know. Sometimes these things just lodge in your brain and you know they're right. In this case, it was Brazil, nowhere else. One small issue though - I'd never been there. The closest I'd come was TV docos (and soapies!) and lots of travel books.
So, not only did I need to research a setting and culture in lots of detail, I also needed to make Damaso sound Brazilian. Do I speak Portuguese? No. Did I consider a boxed set of Teach Yourself Portuguese CDs? Yes. But I figured by the time I even understood the pronunciation it would be time to hand in the book.
Fortunately I came across a romance reader whose native tongue is Portuguese. Would she mind advising on language? 'Delighted' came the reply! I suspect she didn't quite realise how many questions an author could ask about the minutiae of a single point... Over the next several months she and I corresponded about swear words and endearments, slang and formal language. I learned a few phrases in Portuguese, which I guarantee I can't pronounce properly - it's a gorgeous language but I can't do it justice.
Without her help I doubt I'd have had the courage to submit this book. I knew that whatever gaps there might be in my research, I had to get the language right. Her advice was crucial. What still amazes me is her willingness to help, even when she was busy with things of her own (funny that) and her patience (this wasn't just a one off query). Her good humour and support throughout were marvellous. It's one thing to call up a foreign consulate and quiz the staff about murder laws and conviction rates in their countries (yes, I've done that). Those staff are there to answer even such bizarre questions. But again and again I've had romance readers put up their hands to advise on things I need - the personal perspective on a particular medical treatment, the intricacies of aristocratic titles in their country, regional food, the state of the roads and travel times in a given area, some everyday detail from their job and yes, more language details.
To all those people who've been an advisor along the way - thank you! Speaking with an expert makes all the difference to a writer who's chained to her desk (sometimes it feels like it) and hasn't experienced what you have. It helps to feel I've tapped into what's real, not just what I've imagined to be real.
Have you ever found your knowledge or experience unexpectedly useful?
In the interests of shameless self-promotion, I'll mention that DAMASO CLAIMS HIS HEIR is out today in Australia, New Zealand and Britain and already available in North America. Here's the back cover copy:
When opposites attract!
Damaso Pires should have known better than to get involved with Marisa, the scandalous Princess of Bengaria. Yet soon he sees her true beauty and flawless virtue, which touches a place in him he’d thought had been ruthlessly destroyed by his childhood on the streets of Brazil.
But their brief affair becomes permanent when Marisa reveals she’s pregnant.
Damaso knows the sting of illegitimacy and, having fought tooth and nail to claw his way up to the dizzying heights of international success and financial infamy, he won’t let his child slip from his grasp. There’s only one way to claim his heir – and that’s marriage!
Here's a link to read the first chapter.