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Eye On Romance
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Lisa Jackson

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Shannon McKenna
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I started writing my first romance novel in secret. I was working a temp job in an insurance office in Manhattan at the time, and the office manager had made it clear that even if there was nothing to do, I still had to look busy-- never one of my big talents. I felt bad about the wasted time, though, and I needed something to round out my other chosen career, which was singing. Yeah, that's right. Most artists choose a more practical Plan B to back up their improbable Plan A. Me? No way. "Long Shot" is my middle name.

So I sneakily set up a Document 1 and a Document 2 with a spreadsheet on it. If my Boss du Jour walked by I could quick-like-a-bunny switch screens, and whenever the coast was clear, I went back to my story. Not that I was slacking, mind you. If there was work to be done, I did it. The sneakiness felt familiar, though, because I've been teased about reading romances since I was a kid. I think the day I finally grew up was the day I stopped trying to cover up what I was reading on the bus, train or subway. Let people think whatever they like.

It wasn't until I moved to Italy (details of that Long Shot provided later on) that I got serious about writing, though. I found myself with many long, quiet days alone with nothing to do, so I slogged my way bravely to the end of the manuscript and sent it out. Everybody rejected it-except for Kensington. I wrote for them for a few years, and then made a bid for an erotic novella for the new Brava imprint, and oh joy, they accepted it. Then I wrote BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. And so on, and so forth.

That's how I started. I can't think of anything I'd rather do. I never knew it would be so scary, and so hard . . . all that solitude and silence, a blank computer screen, and no one to blame. But still. It's worth it. It's great.

I was originally convinced that I wanted to make it as a singer in NYC, so I was temping to support my music habit. I sang with various ensembles that performed medieval and renaissance music, I sang lead in a fabulous Celtic fusion band, I sang church gigs, I sang weddings and funerals, smoky cabaret and country/blues, Christmas carols dressed in a Dickens outfit in shopping malls, I was even a strolling madrigal singer at the Renaissance Faire in one of those cleavage-enhancing lace-up bodice thingies. I did everything I could possibly think of to make the rent. Those were my wild years. Then, Italy…which is a lot mellower than NYC. And oh. The food. Words fail me.

A brief word about the Renaissance Faire. I never did a goofier, more ridiculous or worse-paying gig, but I have to say, the place was a sizzling hotbed of summer romance. Such a variety of gorgeous men in tights to choose from, and I've always loved historical romances. Yum.

Then one day, I saw a group of Italian musicians strolling by. They were all handsome, as Italians are wont to be, but the lute player was just delicious. His legs in tights surpassed all other legs, and those long, tanned fingers twinkled so deftly over the lute strings, it just made me quiver. His name was Nicola, and he didn't speak a word of English, but I was undaunted. I followed him around, dreaming up excuses to talk to him, insofar as I could. Then I saw him at the cast campfire that night, whipping up a delicious pasta dish over two tiny camp stoves for more than fifty people with such grace and flair, my knees sagged beneath me. What could be sexier than a man who can cook? After we devoured his bounty off paper plates, he played Bach for us on his classical guitar, naked to the waist in the flickering firelight, green eyes flashing. Hold me back. (No one did.)

The ultimate summer romance ensued, but he went back to Italy when the summer was over. I resigned myself to a bittersweet memory of What Might Have Been, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. A year later, I quit my job, broke my lease, put my stuff in a friend's basement, bought a ticket to Italy, and went to find him. Yeah, it was nuts…but we've been married for seven years. Really. Passion makes you reckless. Must've been the effect of all those romance novels.

Improbable though it may seem, it worked out fine. Now I live in Southern Italy, of all things, and oh, if I ever thought I needed a challenge or an adventure, this is certainly that. Someday I'll write a book about it. It'll be a sharp-edged comedy. But when it comes to love, Nicola will always be my inspiration!

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