Julie Leto is constantly honing her craft to be a better writer, so much so that her group blog is called the Plot Monkeys. She’s had her writing ups and downs but Leto is a survivor, as any girl raised with three brothers would learn to be. She’s on the high point now with a new paranormal series starting with Phantom Pleasures that is in stores now and shares another high with her story below.
I started writing romance novels on account of White Zinfandel. Yes, it’s true. It was November of 1987 and I was out with a friend to celebrate her birthday. This particular friend is the one who’d introduced me to romance novels in our freshman year of high school, though she’d been swiping historical romances from under her older sister’s bed for years. We took to hiding them inside our Catholic school textbooks so we could devour Johanna Lindsay and Cynthia Wright and the like instead of actually, you know, learning algebra.
But in ’87, we were in graduate school and getting tipsy on cheap wine at our favorite Italian café when she suggested we write a romance novel together. I had just received a degree in creative writing and was working toward a Masters in education and so was she. So on the paper tablecloth next to our order of pasta fritti, we plotted out our first book.
Amazingly, when we sobered up the next day, we actually stuck with our plan. We joined RWA and the local chapter, wrote the book, went to conferences, met and pitched to editors and agents and caught a ton of flack for being young, pretty, college co-eds who thought they had the stuff to be published. After a few years of rejections and two and a half pre-Internet researched historical romances, my friend decided the writing business was not for her. I was on my own.
So just after my wedding in 1991, I switched from historical romances to my deepest love, paranormal romances. I’d been hooked on this new subgenre since reading Rita Clay Estrada’s IVORY KEY. I toyed with many ideas and completed two manuscripts while working full time as a teacher at my alma mater. I had this one manuscript about a hotel heiress who inherits a haunted island with a castle and who finds a sexy phantom trapped in a painting that I nearly sold to Silhouette Shadows, but after doing extensive revisions, I received a form rejection. The line announced it was closing two weeks later.
That was probably the closest I ever came to quitting.
But I soldiered on and a year later, met Brenda Chin (now a Harlequin Senior Editor, but then an editorial assistant) at a workshop sponsored by my local chapter. She described what she was looking for at Temptation Blaze (which had not yet launched) and I immediately recalled a story idea I’d tried to write as a novella for my good friend, Alexandra Kendall, who was just starting a company she would call Red Sage (and which later became a leader in erotic romance with the Secrets novellas.) Trouble was, I had too much story for a novella. But a short contemporary? Why not? I adored Temptations. So I dropped the idea of paranormals and after a two-minute plotting session in the bathroom with my critique partner, I approached Brenda with the idea. She loved it. Of course, I hadn’t written a word. I went home and started writing.
My day job was very demanding, so it took me a year to finish the manuscript. By the time Brenda had time to read my manuscript and request revisions, six months had passed. It took me another six months to actually do the revisions, which required a complete rewrite of the second half of the book. Then I waited while she read. Another couple of months. Then more revisions (to the pesky second half, which had become a bit too emotional for a fun, flirty Temptation Blaze) which I did, then she read it again and finally, felt she had a book she could sell to her senior editor. Nearly two and a half years, maybe closer to three, had gone by from start to finish.
In the meantime, I’d retired from teaching and was working as my father’s secretary, which I have to tell you, was the best damned job in the universe. My family owns a business (we celebrated 50 years last month!) and my mother and three brothers also work there. Needless to say, when Brenda called to tell me she was recommending the buy, I went around to all the other secretary’s desks and put a note on their phones that said, “If Brenda Chin calls Julie, GET HER.” Being the boss’s daughter does bring some clout, after all.
The day was March 14, 1997–nearly ten years after that fateful birthday dinner. It was just after 11am. One of the secretaries took the call and immediately paged me. My desk, which was in the center of the office without walls, was too noisy, so I dashed into the conference room. I picked up the phone and not fifteen seconds later, my entire family (father, mother and three brothers) ran in after me. They heard the whole conversation. Much screaming ensued. Brenda asked me if she should call back after the party for us to discuss the details of the sale, but I said no, shooed the family out and proceeded to negotiate my contract.
My first book, SEDUCING SULLIVAN, came out in June 1998 and was reprinted and re-released in January, 2006.
Oh, and that paranormal book with the sexy phantom and the hotel heiress? It came out this month under the title, Phantom Pleasures. Okay, so it’s not the same book. I completely rewrote it without ever looking at the original. I don’t think I even own the original anymore. But it was the same idea and many of the same characters–and I finally had the skill to pull it off. It was like making that first sale all over again.
I’ve since sold over thirty and I’ve been in the business for over twenty-years. Yet every single sale is as exciting as the first. Well, nearly. J