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Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sharon M. Peterson!!!

Today we’re welcoming Sharon M. Peterson, another of the fabulous Omegas, whose book THE LEARNING CURVE has been nominated for a 2019 Golden Heart in the Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements category.

Sharon M. Peterson grew up in Oregon, just a few minutes away from Multnomah Falls. (Google it and be awed.) As a child, she was a voracious reader, using books to escape her real life and discover new friends. Every Mother’s Day, she thanks her mother for letting her read when she should have been cleaning her room. As a result, she’s a terrible housekeeper but a pretty dang good writer. Now, Sharon lives Texas with her husband and four children, including two autistic sons. She complains loudly and often about the heat. For several years, she taught middle school English and has the personality to prove it. She has one cat, one dog, one tattoo, an iced tea addiction, and an intense fear of poodles (don’t ask).

When she’s not hiding from her kids in the closet or writing, she is on the leadership board of a local non-profit, Write/Create, where she helps mentor young writers and encourage creativity in her community. She is also a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the West Houston RWA chapter, and a founding member of the Every Damn Day Writers (an accountability and support group for women writers). When not writing, Sharon is active at her church, occasionally singing on the worship team and in the car where her car-dancing game is strong. At home, Sharon constantly, and bravely, answers the call of, “Look at me, Mommy,” feeds her starving children, and dreams of the day she might sleep eight straight hours in a row.

One of Sharon’s favorite quotes is from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.” She endeavors to tackle life that way and create characters who do the same. Sharon writes women’s fiction with heart and humor and always a bit of romance. She has completed one novel, is working on her second, and dreaming of many, many more. Her first novel was a finalist in the 2018 North Houston RWA Lone Star Writing Competition and a 2019 RWA Golden Heart finalist. Sharon is represented by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates.

Here’s a blurb for THE LEARNING CURVE:

Twenty-seven-year-old Tess Monaghan is stuck. Living at home, working in the family business, and definitely not dating, she isn’t sure what she wants out of life. Then her best friend dies, leaving Tess to raise her children. She is completely unprepared to become an insta-mom to five-year-old Charley, who refuses to believe her parents are dead, and three-year-old Dustin, diagnosed with autism and living in a world of his own. Overwhelmed with the stress of her instant family, the overflowing laundry baskets, and the sleep deprivation, Tess finds comfort in “conversations” with her dead best friend.

Then there’s Joe St. Clair, who stares too much and says too little. While the kids love their Uncle JoJo, Tess has avoided him since a disastrous first date years ago. Still, he quietly insists on helping her at every turn and his special connection with Dustin is impossible to ignore. Tess has to admit it—she needs him. A lot. When the children’s grandfather threatens to take the kids away, Tess realizes this might not be the life she expected, but it’s one worth fighting for. With a bit of hope, humor, and an unexpected friendship that turns into something more, she may just be able to do it.

I’m already a little teary just reading that! I’m so glad Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements is back as a category! (And my heart squeezed a little at “stares too much and says too little”! Sigh.)

Folks, I’m eager to have a sit-down with Sharon and learn more about her life and her writing. To help Tess out a little, maybe we can grab seats in her living room while she’s not looking and fold some of those overflowing baskets of laundry for her… I’ll bring the iced tea!

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Welcome, Sharon! Congrats again on your Golden Heart final, and with finding such a great agent—all on your very first book!! This is your first completed Romance, but have you been writing a long time?

 I’ve always been a closet writer. I started but never finished a few novels over the years but I never told anyone, even my husband, about my desire to write—it seemed like such an impractical dream.

Life happened and somehow I had four children—the boys are 13, 11, and 9, and The Girl is 5 now. While I was pregnant with my third son, my first son was diagnosed with autism and by the time my third son was eighteen months, I knew he was also autistic. My life became one of ruthless practicality, insurance companies, and therapy appointments.

About five years ago, friends encouraged me to start a blog. One day, I screwed up the courage to do it and I began telling stories of my life. With each post I wrote, I fell more in love with the storytelling aspect. Through the two years I blogged consistently, a writing friend invited me to her writing group, but I never took her up on the offer. I wasn’t a serious writer, why waste everyone’s time?

Then my laptop died. Between four kids and medical bills, it wasn’t in the budget to get another, and I learned very quickly how much I’d come to rely on writing as a lifeline to my sanity and you know, free therapy. I missed it. A lot. 

One day, my friend Maria called and asked me to meet her. I had no idea that when I arrived, she’d have a new laptop for me. She and a group of local moms had pooled their money together to purchase it for me, to make sure I kept writing. I have no idea how to explain it except that moment changed things for me, it gave me courage to write. I attended my first writing group even though I had nothing to show them. But they encouraged me to start.  

So I did. In between homeschooling three kids, an idea began to form, one that I’d spent the last ten years training to write, about a woman who inherits two kids, one of whom is autistic. Then, on a laptop gifted to me by a bunch of moms, in my spare moments and the quiet of the late, late nights, fueled by caffeine, stubbornness, prayer, and a passion for writing I’d finally claimed, I started to write.

And this time I didn’t stop.

Oh, what an amazing story!! I’m passing the tissue box, since I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to wipe away a few tears right now. The power of women supporting women!! It’s the best!! (Sob!!) How wonderful that they kept you writing, and that it got you to this amazing point in your career! And I love the heartfelt book you were able to write as a result. Are parts of Tess’s story based on elements of your own real life?

 Short answer: YES!

Long answer: One of the characters is Dustin. He’s three and autistic. Parts of him are certainly inspired by my two autistic sons as well as other children I know on the spectrum. There’s a saying, “You meet one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.” Because autism is a spectrum, the symptoms, severity, and quirks of an autistic person vary widely. For instance, in my house alone, my oldest is 13, walks himself to and from school, is in many general education classes with support and will talk your ear off when he’s nervous. On the other hand, my 9-year-old is very limited verbal and needs constant supervision.

In LEARNING CURVE, Dustin takes on some characteristics of my sons—he’s very limited verbally, has echolalia (meaningless repetition of words spoken by another person…or heard on television or the radio or on YouTube), rarely sleeps, and has poor eye contact. He also carts a fidget toy, a tiny stuffed monkey, everywhere. That little monkey is based on one my oldest still carries with him in his pocket or backpack. It’s in pretty gnarly shape but he loves that thing.

Another of my characters, Steven, is not so much based on one real person, but a conglomeration of all the judgment we special needs parents get lobbed at us. Early in querying, a published author friend gave me feedback and one thing she said was to make him the worst, focus all the anger I’d ever felt toward anyone whose ignorance and thoughtlessness was aimed at our family. I have to say, it was very cathartic and it definitely made Steven a badder-bad guy.

A vengeance character!! Excellent therapy indeed. (And just BTW, I wanted share an article about how to understand the phrase “the spectrum” that I came across the other day—as a teacher at a school with many kids on the spectrum, I found it really clear and good to share. The more everybody understands, the more every kid can thrive!)

So you’ve had a powerful life as a writer already. What about your life as a reader? You attribute your writing skill to a rich reading habit as a child. And you were a middle school English teacher, too!! (God bless you!! I teach high school kids, who are easy by comparison.) What kinds of books do you most love to read?

I read a lot and I love talking about books. I’ve always loved love stories and distinctly remember reading my first “adult” romance when I was twelve—The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Way too young for scandalous secret love affairs with priest but that did not stop me.

For years, I was a romance junkie but nowadays, I try to read widely because I think being exposed to all kinds of writing helps me to be a better writer. My favorite genres are romance and women’s fiction, but I will read anything if the writing catches my attention (and bonus if there’s at least a hint of romance). I am a huge Kristan Higgins fan and also really enjoy Sophie Kinsella. I discovered Maggie Osborne (historical romance) years ago and fell in love with her quirky heroines and unusual storylines. If you haven’t read her book Silver Lining, stop what you’re doing and go read it now.

Some recent 5-star reads for me: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan, The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir, and Dear Dwayne, With Love by Eliza Gordon, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owns, (I could talk about books all day long so I’ll stop there before I bore you.)

My favorite movie of all-time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Sure, it’s mostly about kidnapping and Stockholm Syndrome but there’s singing and dancing and barn-building and very handsome brothers. In terms of television, I’m a bit behind schedule but I loved The Middle, Ugly Betty, and Little House on the Prairie. I tend to be a bit of a reality show junkie too, especially cooking shows like Top Chef.

That’s quite the list! (And you inspired me to go buy a copy of Silver Linings! On its way from Barnes and Noble as we speak!) What about more books from you? You’re working on your second novel—care to share what it’s about?

I am currently on the second draft of a still untitled WIP.

The blurb:

Perci Mayfield has never quite lived up to her mother’s expectations. In fact, she’s pretty sure she’s a Grade-A Failure. She works at a job she hates. The forty pounds she was supposed to lose last year are still right where she left them. Then five days before Christmas her boyfriend dumps her. On the radio.

Under the influence of jalapeño poppers and wine, Perci makes anti-New Year’s resolutions, things she can’t possibly fail at. I will NOT try to lose weight. I will NOT work harder at my job. I will NOT get a new hobby. I will NOT date. I will NOT be a better daughter and sister.

Those resolutions set Perci on a track she never expected. A new job she loves? A new un-handsome, and totally hot, neighbor? A better friendship with her sister? Yes, yes, and yes.

Perci has never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution but this year, failing might not be so bad.

Oh, that’s perfection!!! I would bring that puppy to the cash register in a heartbeat!! (Can you write faster? Pretty please??? Or…maybe make a resolution to NOT write faster, if that works better???)

It’s been a joy talking with you, Sharon! But I need to give our readers a chance to chime in. Do you have a question to get our conversation rolling today?

 What was the first romance novel you read?

 

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Connect with Sharon M. Peterson on social media:

Website: http://sharonmpeterson.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/stone4031

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stone4031/

50 responses to “Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sharon M. Peterson!!!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Sharon! Thanks for joining us–I had a blast interviewing you!

    AS to the first romance novel I read…hmmm…my babysitter when I was little read those thin traditional Regencies (where a kiss on the hand was as steamy as it got), but I think I only ever read the blurbs on the back.

    Probably my first was a Kathleen Woodiwiss…maybe The Flame and the Flower. And I have ZERO idea how a copy ever made its way into my hands since my mother never read them.

    All I remember from those Old Skool romances was that they made me cry and be furious…but then the happy end roped me back in. (I usually had a separate alternative version going in my head that had the heroine beating the hero up for being such a jerk to her).

    I think my real *love* of romance came when I discovered Mary Balogh. Her books seemed to capture what love was supposed to be.

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  2. Addison Fox says:

    Welcome Sharon!!! So glad you’re joining us today and congratulations on your GH final – the book sounds amazing, as does your work in progress!

    Thank you as well for sharing your journey. Your determination (and wonderful, lovely, amazing story of your friends’ commitment to your writing with the computer!!) are so inspiring.

    Good luck in New York!!!
    Addison

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    • Addison,

      Thank you so much for reading. I definitely have some amazing people in my life–they even funded my trip to New York through a GoFundMe account. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to go.

      I don’t think I could keep writing without all the cheerleaders in my life I have because as I’m sure you know, this writing stuff is not easy on most days.

      When, and if, I am ever published, my acknowledgment section is going to be a bonus book. 🙂

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  3. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for the peek behind the curtain! Have a great time in NYC!

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  4. Debbie Lozano says:

    Love this interview! I can confirm that Sharon is as honest, funny, and delightful in person as she is in this interview. She’s an excellent writer, and much like reading her book, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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    • Debbie!

      You’re the sweetest. I’m so glad you got to read Learning Curve and that you actually liked it too. 🙂 Thank you for just being my friend.

      Love ya,
      Sharon

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  5. Robin Facer says:

    Cannot WAIT to read Learning Curve. If it has half the wit and and heart of this interview, it will be a stellar success!

    I’m so happy you kept moving forward, despite the obstacles. That’s a wonderful lesson for all of us.

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  6. I just can’t wait to meet you Sharon. We’re kindred WFWA, mainstream category sisters. You just happen to be a helluva lot funnier. I’m up on blog tomorrow and you are a tough act to follow, missy. Gosh… my first romance??? Must have been a Mary Kay Andrews book because she’s from my hometown and used to work at the same newspaper as me (under her real name).

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    • Sheri–

      Aw, thank you! I think it’s pretty dang awesome two of us WFWAers made it to the final round. And I’m very excited to meet you too. (But for reals, I’m way better in writing than I am in person so don’t get your hopes up. Ha!)

      See you in six days? WHAT? I have SO much to do.

      –Sharon

      PS–Your response magically appeared today. It wasn’t here yesterday. So weird.

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  7. Bradeigh says:

    I loved reading this and learning even more about one of my favorite writing friends.

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  8. Susie K says:

    I loved reading this interview! You captured the humor and deep down joy that resides in Sharon despite her occasional struggles. I can’t wait to read Learning Curve!

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  9. Lisa Heartman says:

    Sharon, I loved this interview. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I think adding a bit of your real-life experience in your stories is wonderful! Especially if it will help others to understand the challenges of a mom with autistic children or bring other moms comfort. I love that.

    I don’t recall the name of the first romance I read. All I remember was it had a great looking guy on the cover with no shirt (scandalous for a teenager!). I’ve been into romance ever since, so whatever it was got me hooked.

    See you in NY!

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    • Lisa–

      Thank you so much for reading! I guess I went with the old “write what you know.” It’s the Book of my Heart which I wouldn’t recommend at the first book you send out on submissions. It hasn’t sold yet (and maybe won’t in this market) and it’s killing me a little to think it might not ever see the light of day. Lesson learned.

      Can’t wait to meet you in NYC!
      Sharon

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  10. Becke Turner says:

    Welcome Omega Sister,

    I’m so impressed with your rapid writing success. However, I can see the blood, sweat, and tears were forced from your life story. All my best with the coming years.

    I have M. Osborne’s books on my keeper shelf. If you loved Silver Lining, you must try The Promise of Jenny Jones.

    I totally fangirled Maggie at the New Orleans RWA conference many moons ago. To me, there’s nothing like a transitional story. They give hope every woman has an opportunity to learn and grow. But we have to be courageous enough to grab the experience when it shows itself. Or make it through sheer hard-headed determination.

    Can’t wait to chat in NYC.

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    • Becke–

      Yay! Another Maggie O. fan. I’ve read almost all her books and I adore her. I am SO jealous you got to meet her. I know she stopped writing some time ago but I think she’s one of those hidden author treasures that not nearly enough people know about.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Can’t wait to meet you in NYC!

      Sharon

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  11. Kellie VanHorn says:

    Both your novels sound amazing, Sharon!! Can’t wait to meet you soon!

    Hmm, first romance novel I read… I think it would have been one of the Palisades Pure Romance inspy books. Maybe Treasure by Lisa Tawn Bergren? The combo of clean romance and adventure got me hooked!

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    • Kellie–

      I can’t wait to meet you either. In middle school, I was SUPER into Janette Oke and the Love Comes Softly series. Oh, and I think that’s when I started to read some Grace Livingston Hill books. Did you ever read her? I hadn’t thought of her books in a long time until the other day.

      See? I can literally talk about books forever. 🙂

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  12. You continue to inspire and amaze me! This interview (even your awesome bio) are so wonderful—just like you. I can’t wait until your book(s) are out in the world for everyone to read!

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    • Alison,

      I am so blessed to have you as a friend. Thank you for ALWAYS being an encourager! I can’t wait to say I know best-selling author Alison Hammer next year. 🙂

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  13. What an amazing and inspiring story. I can’t wait to read your books!

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  14. You are one amazing woman, and a true inspiration to anyone who has ever dreamt of writing. Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you.

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  15. Shannon says:

    Hi Sharon!

    What a wonderful story you have! I can’t wait to read both your books! Have a great time in New York! You’ll have to share the experience with EDD Writers when you get back.

    Shannon Anderson

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    • Shannon–

      Oh, you know I’ll definitely be sharing everything with you all. I’m so excited and overwhelmed (and a little nervous about getting lost in NYC). Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  16. Tracy Brody says:

    Thanks for the tissues, Eliza, because I was teary in the intro! Sharon, you have a fabulous, comedic voice and love the story. I will absolutely buy and read this book. Like put it at the top of my 2000 book to-be-read pile.

    Funny connection, one of the soldiers that I did some troop support for is named Joe St. Clair. Nice Christian guy.

    So looking forward to meeting you in NYC – where you might actually be one of the few people who gets more sleep there than you do at home. Praying for your hubby to handle the homefront but I’m sure he is already aware of your superhero mom status.

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    • Tracey–

      Oh, wow! The real Joe St. Clair. Another funny story about that name. Our neighbors moved in about six years ago. His name is Joe. I started writing this book three years ago. I named the love interest Joe. Only six months ago did I realized they had the same name. Ha!

      I hope one day this book does make it into your TBR pile. (I can relate though. I’m pretty sure I’ll probably meet my death when my towering pile of not-read books falls and buries me.

      Thank you SO much for reading and for your comments!

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  17. Sharon, you are blessed to have such amazing women in your circle of friends.

    Your book sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to meet you in NYC.

    My first romance was Pride and Prejudice. I picked it up off a neighbor’s bookshelf because it had a drawing of a young regency woman on it. I must have thought it was a biography. Historical fiction and biographies of women were my go-to read as a kid. After that, it was any romance I could find.

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    • Claire,

      I am very blessed to have some amazingly supportive friends. I could not have written this book without them. Literally.

      Oh, I love Pride and Prejudice. I took an Austen class in college and got to read all her books. One of my favorite classes.

      Can’t wait to meet in NYC!

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  18. Sharon, that laptop story is about the best thing ever. Congratulations on your final! And your WIP sounds like something I would LOVE. Please write fast.

    First romance I ever read – it was Johanna Lindsey. Secret Fire, I think? There was a Russian prince and all sort of kidnapping and drugging of the heroine and even stuffing her in a box at one point? Exactly what all impressionable middle schoolers should be reading, right? LOL.

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    • Vivi,

      Thank you so much. That laptop meant the world to me. So blessed by the people in my life.

      And I was right there with you as an impressionable middle schooler reading all sorts of things. I think I went through my VC Andrews phase around then. Ha!

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  19. Lyn says:

    I love this interview! You are an inspiration Sharon! I also have a child with special needs so I know how hard we have to fight and advocate for them. And your new WIP sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it 🙂

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    • Lyn–

      Thank you so much and it means a little more coming from a mama who knows the struggle personally.

      I look forward to reading your book sooner than later. 🙂

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  20. Valen Cox says:

    The Flame and the Flower. Kathleen Woodiwiss. Avon Books. Then The Wolf and the Dove, my all time favorite with Aislinn and Wulgar. Wow does this bring back memories!

    Great blog! Hugs and Best Wishes for Success!

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    • The Flame and the Flower! Oh, it’s been ages since I read that. I might have to re-add it to my TBR pile.

      Thank you so much for reading. See you soon, like less than a week soon. EEP!

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  21. Wonderful interview! Plus, now I have a great excuse for my poor housekeeping skills—I, too, was too busy reading to clean up my room.

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    • Rebecca–

      Haha! I have a feeling many of us writers may have a similar housekeeping style. Who WANTS to clean toilets when there are books to write?

      Thank you SO much for reading!

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  22. Thank you so much for the shout-out, and good luck, Sharon! By the way, I’m also a huge Maggie fan. Some of the best historicals ever. See you in NYC!

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    • Kristan–

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this (LONG) post. I have been a fan of yours since I picked up Fool Rush In at the library and I’ve read every last one since. Thank YOU for getting through 2 a.m. feedings and long waits in therapy offices (where I’d get funny looks for laughing out loud at what I was reading, but whatever) and for inspiring me to write the kind of books I want to read.

      Hoping to see you in New York! I’ll be the one who is constantly lost. 🙂

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  23. Fenley Grant says:

    Sharon,

    I can’t wait to meet you in NYC. As a fellow Omega AND a car dancer AND an Autism Mom (we have superpowers–we need capes), we already have a bond. I love the premise of your story and can’t wait to read it when published. Especially the part about the judgmental antagonist. Soooo been there.

    I started down the romancelandia path with a copy of Pride and Prejudice, a gift from my uncle for my tenth birthday. From there, I branched out to Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen Woodiwiss. I still love historical romance (even though I write paranormal romance and urban fantasy.)

    True confession: I, too, read The Thorn Birds at an inappropriate age and managed to find some of Sidney Sheldon’s works around that time, too. Rebels.

    So excited to meet you–it’s almost time!

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    • Fenley–

      Um, yes, clearly we NEED to meet. And maybe find a car to dance in…after a couple of glasses of wine.

      Just look for me–I’ll be the one who isn’t sure what to do with herself without four children in tow.

      Wait, I get to go to the bathroom without an audience for six days…

      Anyway, I so look forward to meeting you!

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  24. I love this interview and so look forward to Sharon’s books. Thank you!!!!

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  25. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Wonderful interview, Sharon. Your mom friends sound like the BEST friends! Your GH story sounds fabulous and your follow up hilarious!

    My first romances (plural) were Georgette Heyer’s historicals. My mother was a book-a-day reader and had practically everything Beyer wrote. I read them all!

    So glad to be an Omega with you — see you in NY!

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