HUDSON — “The weeks of separation had done nothing to diminish her memory of him. His elegant riding coat flapped about his legs as he walked, his stride confident and purposeful. His long hair swept about his face in glossy black locks. He looked even more like a pirate than he ever had before.”
Oh boy; here we go, any avid romance reader might think after reading this paragraph from Hudson author Anna Small’s book, “In the Arms of an Earl,” a Regency-period historical romance novel.
She’s had seven books published and is working on a three-book series now. All Small needs is the “germ of an idea,” she says.
The genesis of “In the Arms of an Earl” was a photograph of an actress she found on an internet search. She had the face, built her central female character from it, then her love interest — a damaged war veteran who’d lost a hand in the Napoleonic wars — and then built the world in which they fall in love.
“I write the first chapter, then I write all the fun parts and a lot of dialogue,” said Small of her method. “I make up names and change them later; I go back and fix things later.”
Eventually, the whole thing gels, the carefully researched historical details woven throughout providing the atmosphere needed to keep readers engaged in a place and time they intuitively recognize as authentic.
Small knows of what she writes. She grew up in England as an Air Force brat and studied British history, the knights, kings, ladies and castles. She harvested ancient roman coins from the creek near the family home.
It was in England, at the age of 16, she wrote her first romance novel on an IBM Selectric typewriter during her downtime working on base issuing out ration cards. At age 52 and looking back, it wasn’t a masterpiece, she admits, but she kept at it. She submitted a romance book she wrote during high school to several New York publishers.
“I got a lot of rejections,” she recalls, but she was encouraged because the publishers took the time to praise her writing as on a level beyond her years.
Small went on to college to major in English and wrote two more books, joined the Romance Writers of America and began to learn what it takes to make it in romance writing. She would score with "The Wild Rose Press, which published “Tame the Wild Wind,” a romance set in the early American west.
But shortly after, life happened; Small got married, had children, and it would be 10 years after her first book that she finally resumed serious writing. She wrote a contemporary romance titled “Taking a Chance of Forever,” and published a couple of e-books before finally finding out “who I am.”
Who she was, she realized, was a writer of historical romances centered around the Regency Period of early 1800s Britain.
“I was sticking with historical romance,” said Small. “I finally found what I wanted to do.”
Small went on to write “How to Marry a Rogue,” a humorous novel that earned her No. 6 among the top 100 2015 novels in the genre at the annual Rom Com romantic comedy convention that year.
Despite her publishing success, writing isn’t Small’s only source of income. She isn’t the type of romance writer who cranks out multiple books a year and doesn’t want to be. She and her husband have a construction business and she also arranges corporate travel. But despite that work, she defines herself as a writer.
“I think of myself as a writer,” she said. “You have to embrace who you are and not be embarrassed.”
Small admits that early on in her writing career she was sheepish about anyone knowing she was a romance writer. She recalls when her first book was published she was working at a travel company with 200 employees and worried that someone would discover the book and tease her about the “spicy love scenes.”
As it turned out, all of her coworkers were supportive and bought copies of the book. Her boss organized an autograph session where she signed copies.
Small said anyone who writes in the genre has to get over being sensitive about it being looked upon as a writer of frivolous or unimportant works. Romance novels are consumed by millions of readers in every country, she said, adding the genre is number one in publishing.
“Romance readers read a book nearly every day,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Small said she tries to incorporate elements that make her books stand out. Her character of the veteran who’d lost a hand is an example. She tapped into the experiences of her uncle, a vet who later in life lost a leg. Her uncle always seemed cheerful despite his predicament and suffering from PTSD, and one day told he owned his cheery disposition to prescribed medications.
“I made my character in the book addicted to Laudanum (an opium medication of the period) and he had his demons he dealt with like my uncle did.”
Small dedicated that book to her uncle.
Small also has taken bits from the history of her husband’s family, including his ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. She thinks she has enough to draw on for many more good books. A recent visit to England with stops at many historic places “reenergized” her and provided the motivation and creative spark she needs for her next works, Small said.
She’ll also heed advice from her readers.
Small recalls an 82-year-old woman from church who had read one of her books and offered some constructive criticism.
“She said they’d better kiss before chapter 13,” Small said, conceding that perhaps the book in question did have an unusually long buildup before the all-important moment romance readers crave most.
Small has a website and blog at www.annasmallbooks.com.