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My First Sale by Julie Leto, It All Started with Cheap Wine…

My First Sale by Julie Leto, It All Started with Cheap...

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.Book Cover

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

Dear Author

REVIEW: Phantom Pleasures by Julie Leto

Dear Ms. Leto:

Book CoverI’ve been anxiously awaiting this new paranormal series of yours from Signet since you announced it over a year ago. I’m intrigued by the premise and I liked parts of the story but overall, I felt like I was missing something when I closed the story.

Alexa Chandler is an heiress in control of a multi million dollar fortune and a four star hotel chain. She is used to being charge and making decisive decisions. Part of her inheritance is castle on a remote island off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida, that Alex wants to turn into a spectacular retreat for the most fabulously wealthy people ever. The island cannot be penetrated via air but in a flyover, Alexa spots an inland channel and rushes off to hire a charter. (Alex is very resourceful. Me heart Alex).

In her flyover, she also sees a ghostly arm waving from one of the windows of the abandoned castle. This is even more exciting for Alex because she loves ghosts and she thinks this adds some spectacular ambiance for her hotel/retreat. Alex takes a charter to the castle and somehow finds that her ghost has a corporeal form and that his magic or someone’s magic has locked her inside the castle.

Damon Forsyth is a man from th 1700s who was the son of a British baron and governor of a Gypsy colony. He had six brothers and a sister who was seduced or captured or somehow taken by Rogan, a man that Damon had once trusted. Rogan worked great magic and imprisoned Damon in a painting until Alexa comes along.

I felt like some of the story from the names–Damon and Alexa–to the descriptions–”flashing eyes”/”enchanting female”–to the internal monologue was old fashioned and a bit florid. Damon, especially, had a tendency toward melodrama in his internal monologues. I thought that it was done intentionally to show that Damon was from an earlier time but it didn’t read very smoothly for me.

Nothing would delay him.
Nothing and no one.
Not even the beautiful flame-haired woman who’d freed him from his prison.

The magic was unexplained and that is part of the charm and part of the frustration of the story. The magic is part of the whodunit or suspense of the story and thus it makes sense for the full construct of the magic to be doled out in bits and pieces. The frustration is that there are times when the story is unexplainable. I.e., when Alexa is at one point trapped in the castle and in another, suddenly freed. I backtracked a couple of times to see if I had missed something in the story to explain that but I hadn’t. You allow the reader to figure out the clues but I do find that frustrating at times. I liked, though, how this series is setting up to reprise past life roles and the mirroring of characters lends to the atmospheric qualities of the story.

Alexa was great. I loved her and her inhibited outlook on life. She did not sweat the small stuff. I guess my biggest problem was with Damon and his tendency toward the florid prose “The sound of a sensual, beautiful woman eschewing a fulfilled life so she could meet the expectations of society cracked his soul. Is this what the future held for him? A reversal of roles that would tear at his core.” I was also irritated by the comparisons to well known figures. The secondary characters were likened to “Indiana Jones” and “Jennifer Lopez”. Not that either Ford or Lopez aren’t smoking hot (well, Ford, back in the day and pre-Calista Flockhart), it’s just I like to envision the characters based on the descriptions rather than supplant the images with other well known figures. C+

Best regards,


This book can be purchased in mass market at Amazon or Powells or ebook format.