Truckee’s Queen of Romance: author Jill Shalvis making a splash in romance novel world
It takes most authors many years and many painful rejections to get their first book published.
It took Truckee romance novelist Jill Shalvis precisely one week and two phone calls to get her first work published.
After she wrote her first novel, Shalvis sent it off to agents and publishers. She didn’t expect a quick response, but she got one.
“I actually got a call within a week from a publisher and an agent,” she said. “I got lucky. For so many people it takes years and years.”
Today, Jill Shalvis has become one of Truckee’s most prolific local authors. Shalvis, who has lived in Truckee for three years, has written more than two dozen romance novels, 25 of which have been published to date.
Last month, Shalvis received a nomination for a prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA Award, the genre’s major honor. She was nominated in the category of best short contemporary romance” for her 2000 novel “Out Of the Blue,” and was one of five finalists in the category.
The awards were held at a black tie ceremony in New Orleans July 21, which Shalvis attended.
“It’s done up like the Oscars,” she said. “I felt like Cinderella.”
For Shalvis, 36, the world of romance is definitely paying off.
Romance fiction is a genre that may not receive the publicity that mainstream fiction does, but it’s a financial powerhouse with an avid base of fans.
According to the Romance Writers of America, $1.37 billion worth of romance novels were sold in 2000, and romances are read by 41 million Americans a year.
“They call us the grocery store books,” Shalvis said. “Some people devour five to 10 of these a week.”
Shalvis didn’t set out to become a romance author. She graduated from college in Southern California with degrees in journalism and accounting, and ended up working as an accountant for eight years.
But she turned to fiction when she was laid off from her accounting job. She was seven months pregnant at the time, and decided to try her hand at writing.
“I couldn’t get a new job because of my pregnancy,” she said. “I’d always read and was always interested in writing.”
Shalvis now writes novels for three different lines of romance books: Harlequin Duets, Silhouette Intimate Moments, and Harlequin Temptation.
Shalvis is making a name for herself with Harlequin Books, said her senior editor, Birgit Davis-Todd.
“She’s written quite a lot of books for us very quickly,” said Davis-Todd in a phone interview from Toronto. “She’s got a fresh, young voice.”
Besides her nomination for the RITA Award this year, Shalvis has also been named a National Readers Choice Award award winner two years running, in a contest sponsored by romance readers. She was also nominated again in 2000.
Shalvis writes as many as three novels a year, each averaging about 250 pages. In the winter, when her three young daughters are in school, she finds she is a little more productive, but she still writes constantly in the summers, too.
“In the summer, I thank my husband for living out of the clean laundry basket, the girls for hardly ever getting chocolate on my computer keyboard and the dog for barking when he gets hungry to remind me it’s dinner time – time to call for take-out,” she said, smiling.
When working on a novel, she tries to write as much as possible to keep in the mood.
“I work straight through six to seven days a week,” she said.
A typical novel takes Shalvis three months, and then she takes a month’s break before starting another one.
For Shalvis, the challenge is keeping her work inspired while still being prolific.
“I’m writing genre romance, so it’s pretty much a set formula,” said Shalvis. “I try to vary the settings and characters to keep it fresh.”
Shalvis said she actually doesn’t read a lot of other romance novelists, but prefers other genres.
“I rarely read within the genre because if I’m reading something else I feel like I’m bringing something new to my work,” she said.
Shalvis’s stories originally had a more suspenseful angle to them, but she now finds her favorite genre is that of romantic comedy.
“I’m becoming known for my humor,” she said. “I’m most comfortable these days with romantic comedy.”
Shalvis receives fan mail from all over the world. Her books are published in several other countries, including Great Britain, France, Japan and Germany.
“The fans are really great,” she said. “Some fans do think the characters are real but no, they’re fiction.”
Shalvis and her husband Dave, a general contractor, moved to Truckee with their three young daughters a few years ago.
When she was living in Southern California, Shalvis more frequently interacted with her fans, attending book signings and other events. But in Truckee, she’s a fairly anonymous local author, unknown despite her plentiful book sales worldwide.
“I didn’t quite like that at first, compared to how it was in L.A., but I love it now,” she said. “It gives me the freedom to write. We like it here a lot.”
And the books just keep on coming. This month, a new Harlequin Duets by Shalvis, a two-in-one book featuring “Blind Date Disasters” and “Eat Your Heart Out,” will be published, and then in September, a new Harlequin Temptation called “Aftershock” comes out.
“I feel like just now I’m starting to really get noticed,” she said.
“We feel that she has made a name for herself and that people come looking for her next book, and that’s important,” said Harlequin’s Davis-Todd. “We’re quite pleased with someone who can write fast and yet has a different story to tell each time in each book.”
Shalvis does hope to eventually try some non-romance writing, and mentioned Westerns and mainstream fiction as possible goals.
Jill Shalvis has already written more than two dozen novels in just seven years of writing. How many more does she have in her?
“I feel like I haven’t even slowed down,” she said. “I think that as long as you’re living life to its fullest, which is really important for the writer by the way, then it will just keep coming to you.”
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