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Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Scarlett Peckham!!

Today we’re welcoming another Rebelle, Scarlett Peckham, 2017 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with her manuscript CONFESS, YOUR GRACE.

Scarlett Peckham came to romance as a child upon finding her grandmother hiding on a porch, giggling over a beat-up copy of Whitney, My Love. She quickly stole it, and has never looked back.

She studied English at Columbia University and built a career in public relations, but in her free time always returned to her earliest obsession: those delicious, big-hearted books you can never bear to put down. Her manuscript, Confess, Your Grace, is a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist in historical romance.

An American who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn, Scarlett now lives in London, along with her very nice husband and their very sleepy cat. Her hobbies include cooking, running, and watching The Real Housewives while consuming unadvisable amounts of white wine.

Here’s a blurb for CONFESS, YOUR GRACE:

Immaculate, ludicrously handsome, and blessed with impossibly kind eyes, no one would expect the Duke of Westmead to be a member of Georgian London’s most exclusive private whipping club. Least of all: the woman he intends to marry.

Having shed a painful past to become the most legendary investor in London Archer Stonewell, the Duke of Westmead now finds himself in urgent need of an heir. Which means he must search for that rarest of creatures: a wife who won’t question his nocturnal whereabouts, or make demands on his heart. Poppy Cavendish is not that type of woman. A fiercely ambitious nurserywoman hired to build Westmead a garden, she has no interest in auditioning for the role of his duchess. But when their shared obsession with business triggers an attraction that is decidedly unbusinesslike, the resulting scandal leads to something neither of them bargained for: a hasty marriage of convenience. As their thorny arrangement blossoms into unexpected passion, and Westmead’s rival threatens everything they’ve built, no secret – or heart – will remain safe for long. 

**Fans self fervently!!!** Oh, MY, that sounds exciting!! How come I can’t read that right now???

Scarlett’s here with us today to talk about about reading, and writing, romance novels “in the dark.” And not quite in the way you might think. I think this topic will resonate with a lot of us.

Take it away, Scarlett!!

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Allow me to begin with a confession. I started writing romance because I thought it would be easy.

I know. I know. I’ll sit here and wait while you roll your eyes and refrain from pelting me with an old dog-eared copy of Shanna.

Finaling for the Golden Heart — a milestone that took place five years after I decided to try my hand at this seemingly undemanding enterprise and nearly two years after I began to pursue it seriously — has brought into relief just how perfectly wrong I was.

And it has made me think about why I ever thought that this might be easy to begin with.

You see, my entire life, I have read romance novels. Hundreds, if not thousands, of romance novels. And almost always in the dark. In secret.

I started at an inappropriately young age, stealing the raciest clench-covered paperbacks I could find from my grandmother’s closet and devouring them late at night. I grew more brazen as a teenager, ignoring the scandalized looks of many a librarian as I checked out giant piles of Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele and Johanna Lindsay. Eventually I graduated to the more recent historical canon, guzzling down everything I could find by Lisa Kleypas and Tessa Dare and so many others. But guzzling in private, from the discreet glow of my Kindle.

I use words like gobble, guzzle — the language of junk food — because my relationship to these books was akin to that with foods we are not supposed to admit to eating in quantity. A guilty pleasure. Something to be done privately, outside the bounds of moderation. I craved the jolt of pure pleasure that they gave me. I enjoyed the calculus of anticipating how the puzzle pieces dangled in the premise would arrange themselves into a happy ending.

Despite all that, these were not the books I talked about at book club or mentioned when friends asked what I was reading. They were the ones I turned to when I needed a break from the stress of term papers or work deadlines. They were what I did when I couldn’t sleep. They were what I read when I was tired of thinking and wanted primarily to feel. To slip away. To indulge myself.

Yes, I loved romance novels. But I did not respect them. And it was that very lack of respect that gave me the courage to actually write one.

You see, I had always wanted to write a novel, but never felt like I had an idea worthy of the effort. Writing itself came naturally, but I had no burning literary work inside me, no novel of ideas. So why not start with an easy, formulaic romance? How hard could it be, to go from meet cute to happily ever after? After all, I had absorbed these books like water for two decades and knew their rules. In college, I had concentrated on the courtship plot. Give me a breezy couple of months, I thought, and I’ll have a dazzling, publishable manuscript.

Yes, Reader. I was absurd.

I had not only absorbed romance novels like water, but absorbed society’s snobbery and judgment about them as well. I had equated their pleasures with the illicit and empty. I assumed that because they go down easily, it is easy to write them.

And the intervening years have taught me one very clear lesson: it is not.

Writing romance is difficult. A good romance novel is built like a logic problem: take two protagonists with complementary but opposing desires and emotional needs; add an external plot that puts them in proximity but also in conflict; overlay this with a romantic plot that ensures that as the characters get closer, they drive each other away; then satisfy the anticipated ending without being blindingly obvious from the beginning. Oh, and that’s just the plot. If it is to be emotionally resonant it will need vivid, empathetic characters, a great deal of insight into human psychology and also a lot of sheer heart — that strange, witchy amalgam that allows the best romance novels to recreate the magnetism and intensity and intimacy of falling in love in a few hundred pages.

And if you can come up with all that it still leaves the small matter of craft. You will want to employ tropes without descending to cliché. You will not want to head hop. Sustain the pace. Raise the stakes. Don’t let it sag in the middle. Research. Deepen the POV. Deepen it again. Work on that laughable one-dimensional villain. Actually, maybe kill him off and find a better overarching conflict. Oh, and if you ever want to sell this thing, make sure it’s high-concept, has a killer hook, blazes through the crowded market with its strikingly original voice, and, yes: goes down very, very, very easily.

In short: make it look like it was blissfully easy to write. Make it look like you dashed it off in a breezy couple of days from the shade of your fabulous sun hat while you were bored on a cruise ship.

But you all know this already. Anyone who has tried it knows the truth about writing romance: doing it well is difficult. Books that seem simple appear that way not because they are simplistic, but because they are elegant in their construction. Because not a single strand of the plot, nor a spin on a trope, nor a twist of a scene are accidental. Because the pleasure they induce is engineered by careful design. Because we are writing emotional thrillers, and it takes labor and precision to keep a reader up all night, breathless to see what will happen next, even when she knows —knows — how the story will end from its very first page.

I have always loved romance novels. But writing them made it a fierce and uncynical love. No longer a guilty habit indulged with a side of self-contempt. It gave me respect for books whose pleasures are delivered deliberately and unapologetically. Romance novels do not make us happy because they are empty or guilty or easy. They make us happy because they are filled with a fierce kind of intention to give pleasure. They are designed to make us glow. To make us laugh and smile. To make our breath catch. To feel like we are not alone in the archetypal feeling of longing.

They are books to be read in the dark, perhaps. But not in secret.

Readers, what about you? What were your assumptions about writing romance before you started writing it? Have your relationship with the genre or tastes as a reader changed since you started writing in the genre?

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Connect with Scarlett Peckham on social media:

Website: www.scarlettpeckham.com

Twitter: @scarlettpeckham

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScarlettPeckham/

36 responses to “Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Scarlett Peckham!!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Scarlett!! We’re delighted to have you with us, and I’m sure today’s discussion will be really interesting.

    I confess, I had the same bone-headed idea about writing romance when I first started out. My love for the genre was sincere, but I had no idea how much I had to learn (and will probably spend the rest of my life learning).

    “Books that seem simple appear that way not because they are simplistic, but because they are elegant in their construction.” Absolutely!!!

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  2. Glad I’m not the only one, Elisa! And it is indeed amazing how the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. I cringe when I think of all the obvious mistakes I’m undoubtedly still making now that it will take me another two or five years to see.

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  3. Scarlett, you are spot on. The best stories alway look effortless.

    I have always loved ALL romance but historicals have a special place in my heart. I always thought that was what I would write. However, the story that begged to be written was contemporary romantic suspense. Go figure. I am in awe of historicals that weave history in without it feeling like a lesson, that capture the time-sensitive nuances of language, that reveal little known tidbits of etiquette or lifestyle and do it in gorgeous prose. Swoon.

    I can’t wait to read yours!

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    • Thanks Patricia! I love contemporary too but historicals were my first love. But the research! I had no idea how many hours of my life I would be spending trying to determine which flower species were grown in Georgian force houses or scouring the internet for euphemisms for — ahem [flutters lashes] — that were passably au courant in 1752…

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Oh, my goodness, yes….on top of all the other challenges of making a story work, historical writers have to worry about everything from how exactly someone got a candle lit indoors in 1814 to how a housekeeper would address a farmer who comes to the kitchen door to how loud a firing pistol would be….and that’s all just on page 24. So much work!! So many research rabbit holes to fall down!

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  4. Welcome, Scarlett, and much Ruby love! Good thoughts on your writing journey and with your GH manuscript. Your H/H sound wonderfully strong and deliciously mis-matched.

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  5. Jennifer Henderson says:

    Scarlett, this is a fabulous article! I also began reading romance at a very young age, and as an adult I also felt a tad embarrassed by my most favorite genre. But no longer! At a conference a few years ago, the keynote (the wonderful Terry McLaughlin) said that our books are about love, and what’s more wonderful or important than that? Ever since, if someone asks what I’m reading or writing, I say “romance” with pride, my head high. And I’m glad you do too.

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  6. Beth Long says:

    Scarlett, the next time someone demeans romance in my presence, I’m handing them a copy of this blog. What a fabulous defence of the best genre in publishing!

    I already knew romance was difficult to write, because my earliest efforts were laughable. But the extent of the learning curve I’m still on all these years later continues to leave me breathless with effort.

    Loved this, and can’t wait to read your book!

    Beth

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    • Yes! Let’s start a movement. (Just kidding. A quick glance at Romancelandia on Twitter suggests that, thaaaaankfully, there already is one!)

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  7. suzanne says:

    The language of junk food! Love it. And junk food and romance are just both so very satisfying. Confess Your Grace sounds just so very delicious. I can’t wait to read it!

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    • Equally satisfying, but I would argue one of the two is more nutritious to the soul. (OK Cool Ranch Doritos do a lot for my soul though, if we’re being 100% honest.)

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  8. Kari W. Cole says:

    We forgive you, Scarlett. We women are very hard on ourselves.

    I admit, I discovered the joys of Romance late. I didn’t start devouring them until a few years ago–blinded by the same prejudices you mentioned. Now, of course, I know better.

    Romance takes the conventions of every other genre–battling villains, solving mysteries, explaining life–and adds the difficult feat of doing all that while falling in love.

    I can’t wait to read Confess, Your Grace. It sounds like a blast.

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    • So true that gender plays into it. Not to oversimplify, but I have never felt a similar need to hide my appreciation of John le Carré or Stephen King or Stieg Larsson.

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        And the irony is that, on average, the bar for writing quality in “manly” genre fiction (thrillers, cop novels, etc.) is notably far below the bar demanded by romance editors.

        That’s not to say there aren’t fabulous stylists in the “manly” genres, but there’s some unbelievably clunky, hamfisted writing, too. Occasionally on airplanes, I read over a seatmate’s shoulder and….shudder.

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  9. Melonie says:

    THIS WAS AN AMAZING POST! So amazing that yes, I had to go all-caps. Yes, I was shouting.

    I too, discovered romance at an early age and scarfed them in the secret of my grandma’s basement. I too, braved the nasty looks and disapproving sounds of the librarian who would check out my stacks of Lindseys and Coulters and Drakes and Smalls.

    I don’t know if I ever thought writing a romance would be “easy” – but I confess, I did think selling one would be a teensy easier. You nailed it with all the hoops we have to jump, juggle, and twirl…those HEAs are hard won, baby.

    Your GH MS sounds like my kind of delicious fun – Regency whipping club you say? Tell me more. 😉

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    • Why, THANK YOU, in all caps! I have a feeling the experience of braving the ignominy among scandalized children’s librarians is not unique to the two of us. Particularly when Ms. Coulter is involved 😉

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  10. Darynda says:

    Welcome, Scarlett! What a great post! I love the “make it look blissfully easy to write.” I fear that a great many of us thought just as you did in the beginning. Now that we know better, we can respect the genre for what it is: freaking hard to write.

    And this! “It gave me respect for books whose pleasures are delivered deliberately and unapologetically.”

    YES. Just yes.

    I love this post so hard and I look forward to reading your book! It sounds so very, very awesome.

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    • “Freaking hard to write.” Exactly. Thanks Darynda!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I wish I could find the exact quote, but I recently came across something from Dr. Seuss saying that whenever people told him how spontaneous and breezy his books are, all he could think about was how actually writing them, line by line, was difficult to the point of torture. (It’s not just us. Writing is bloody hard.)

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  11. BEAUTIFULLY put, Scarlett! I love the description of romance novels as full – full of all the best of us. I wasn’t dismissive of the difficulty of writing romance – I just blundered in with blind optimism that I could pull one off and left several mangled manuscripts corpses under my bed as I figured out what I was doing – but I do think I have definitely developed even more respect for the art of them over the years. So many authors continue to blow me away with how easy they make it look. Such incredible skill in that.

    Good luck in Orlando! I can already tell you have a powerful voice and I hope to read your books soon. 🙂

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  12. Jennifer Camiccia says:

    Great post, Scarlett! I started reading young. My first real novel was Jane Eyre and then Pride and Prejudice. The shift to romance seemed natural after that. When I was ten, I didn’t get why people looked down on the genre. But by the time I was a teen, I was ripping the covers off my books and hiding them from view. These books, also, inspired me to write. And it’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Writing is hard enough without having to live down all these prejudices! You’re story sounds great – I hope I get a chance to read it one day. And I promise I won’t tear the cover off 🙂

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    • Ripping the covers off! Clever – I never thought to do that. My grandmother would cover hers with a homemade cloth dust jacket in a discreet Laura Ashely print that just screamed “I am reading something so illicit it cannot be seen by the light of day.” That whiff of the forbidden was in part why I wanted to read them in the first place. (And then I saw what was actually on the covers she was hiding and wanted to read them EVEN more.)

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  13. Jennifer Camiccia says:

    Just noticed I put you’re instead of your. Ugh! Pretend that never happened…

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  14. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    I, for one, don’t write romance…yet:) For right now my bailiwick is MG. That being said, I’ve never even read much of the romance genre until recently pretty much for the same reason you initially thought it easy to write.

    I have to say I am falling for the romance genre in all its many guises in a big way! No pun intended!

    Enjoyed your post…congrats & good luck!

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  15. C.R. Grissom says:

    Hi Scarlett,

    Excellent post! Ms. Lindsay was my mainstay. She introduced me to the world of historical romance and I’m in her debt. Every once in a while I’ll say ‘farden’ instead of the word it replaced in her future world. Romance novels made me a reader.

    When asked, “What are you reading?”

    My snarky reply was always, “Smut.”

    I had a bodice-ripper in hand, and the question was superfluous.

    The only time I’ve ever squirmed was once on a communications retreat for our diocese. On a break, the young parish priest picked up my latest Nora Roberts tome and opened to the bookmark. I had it tucked into the beginning of a love scene. I give him full props for giving it the attention it deserved without scolding me for my choice in reading material afterward. His gently rising left eyebrow provided my only hint he read the scene. I don’t believe my face returned to its natural color for the rest of the weekend. Yes, that really happened.

    I wrote my first historical romance chapters at the tender age of 17. Then I abandoned my dream for years—picked it up like a standard before abandoning it once more. Writing a romance is like giving birth. Many hours of pain, cursing, and pushing to no avail—only to be told you’re not even close to birthing your baby.

    I write YA/NA/Contemporary now, but I’m done letting go. I look forward to meeting you next month in Orlando.

    Your story sounds deliciously wicked and I cannot wait to read it! Good luck my fellow Rebelle…<3

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  16. Tracy Brody says:

    You aren’t the only one with misconception that romance would be easy to write or that reading a lot makes you knowledgeable enough to write one – but, obviously, you have learned to master what it takes. Congrats on our Golden Heart final!!
    Sadly, too many literary snobs have never dared crack a cheesy cover to find the delight in reading romances. Maybe because of the misconceptions, a lot of romance writers work harder to learn the craft and things like deep POV to make our characters and stories memorable. I guess one of my misconceptions were that I could write one less predictable than the category romances. 😉

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  17. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks so much for being with us here today, Scarlett!!

    Good luck with continuing to make it all look easy!!

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