The Romance Reader welcomes Mimi Riser, who has a unique author experience to share. After a hiatus of 25 years, she is back with a new romance novel. I Do is described as a "Gothic-Western-Comedy-Romance set in a medieval Scottish castle that just happens to be in 1883 west Texas". It's an October, 2003 release from LoveSpell.
Mimi, this has to be one of the longest writer's vacations ever! Tell us about your previous publishing experiences.
My first three novels came out like machine gun fire. They were all written and published in one year (1978). Chalk it up to a combination of luck, a little guts, and a lot of work. I was lucky in that my mother and older brother were already established writers when I was beginning. Back in the late 1970's, they were doing westerns and the like for a book contractor who was acquiring manuscripts for a paperback publisher (Manor Books) in New York.
I was 23 at the time and had never had a thing worth mentioning published before. In fact, I'd never written any fiction longer than a few pages before. But I was too naive to realize how pathetic my credentials actually were. I called said book contractor and, somehow, convinced him that I was worth a try. I offered him my services as a romance writer. No good---he didn't need any romances. He asked if I could do science fiction, instead. Being young and desperate to become a published author, I assured him that "science fiction" was practically my middle name. Great---I was in. He just happened to need a 50,000 word space-opera. But the catch was that he needed it in two weeks. Two weeks? That wasn't so great. I was absolutely certain that there was no way I could pull it off. But, for some insane reason, I said yes, anyway. Then I planted myself in front of a typewriter and virtually took root. Two weeks later, like a winded relay-runner passing the baton, I handed him a 150 page manuscript. He accepted it and it was published by Manor under the title The Outer Fleet---which proves that miracles do happen, if you're willing to meet them halfway.
Immediately after that, I did a second science fiction (Revolt on Jupiter) for Manor. They gave me about a month to write that one---what luxury. And, from there, I was finally able to move into Romance. Another New York publisher had recently started a line called MacFadden Romances and they were looking for writers. Based on our experience with Manor, my mother, brother, and myself were all able to get in on the groud floor (so to speak). Unfortunately, we got off on the ground floor, as well, because the MacFadden line didn't last very long. I was scheduled to do at least four books for them, but MacFadden closed shop shortly after my first one was released. It was a contemporary called The Gaelic Heirs.
Honestly speaking, none of these first three novels were anything to brag about. But I learned a lot about writing (and myself) by doing them, and that's worth something.
How did you happen to end up on an extended hiatus?
It was completely unintentional. Also, rather stupid. After MacFadden closed, I got an agent and was about to embark on what I considered a "real" novel writing career. But the man I was married to at the time decided we couldn't afford that. He had his own career goals that he wanted to pursue and we couldn't both be involved in uncertain ventures, he said. One of us had to provide a steady income to pay the bills. I got nominated. Enough said. Several years later---to give the devil his due---he did try to give me a chance to get back into writing, but, by then, the marriage was really on the rocks and my mother was dying of cancer. Neither experience was very conducive to writing romance.
After we divorced, I was back in the work force, naturally, and writing was becoming a little speck on the horizon. Everytime I tried to get back to it, something would push it farther away, until finally I almost stopped trying. But I never stopped thinking about it. And I never stopped hoping. That's what gave me the impetus, maybe, to try just one more time. Somehow or other, this time it worked. It was a long while coming, but I feel incredibly blessed to have been given a second chance.
What did you do in the intervening 25 years? Where did life take you?
It would probably be quicker for me to say what I haven't done. Life has led me on a very merry chase. Well, maybe not always so merry---but definitely never dull. To give you the capsule version: I spent a number of years as an artist's model, posing for painters and sculptors. And, yes, I was usually in the nude. It may sound romantic, but it's not. It's hard physical labor---not quite so bad as being on a chain-gang, but tougher than digging ditches. I've also been a belly-dancer---which is sort of romantic. I was a jewelry-maker and a craft show gypsy for a long time. And I've done brief stints in a number of other jobs---but rarely anything that could be termed *normal.* Whether or not I've been able to write, I have generally managed to stay in the arts. I also got married again to a 6'4" hunk. We'll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year. I've told him that, if we make it to our 25th, I'll probably keep him.
The real adventure, though, started about 12 years ago when we moved from Philadelphia to rural west Texas. We were looking for a more natural life. We got it. It ended up being so natural, we spent our first 6 1/2 years here in a house my husband built by hand (no power tools) out of stuff we salvaged. It had a leaky roof, dirt floors, no electricity, and no plumbing. It was pretty weird, but it was all ours and we loved it. Those years were an amazing growth experience. It was definite hard-core survival, because, on top of everything else, we were dirt poor and half starving much of the time. But it was there I learned how truly empowering struggle can be. It was a wonderful time, actually. It expanded all my horizons way out past the limits. I practically had to reinvent myself. You can't go through something like that and not be changed forever. We still have that place, but we now live about five miles down the road in a house that does have a floor and electricity and other modern conveniences. Except I can't view them as simply convenient, anymore. When I flick a switch now and a light comes on, I feel genuine gratitude. This is luxury!
What brought you back to writing romance?
Well, in my own spirit, I'd never really left romance writing. So, with me, it's not so much a question of what brought me back, but how I got back. And the how can be summed up in two words: Pressure cooker. That's what I had become. I got to the point where I flat out HAD to start writing seriously again, or my lid was going to blow off.
What were some of the challenges you faced when sitting down to write a novel after so long?
I had challenges across the board, both inner and outer ones. So the first challenge was simply deciding to ignor all the others. Once I was past that, the rest was easier than I would have expected. I stopped worrying over whether or not I could actually write a book again and just set about doing it. I took it one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time. And I didn't worry about other things pulling me away from it. Other things did pull me away, in fact---sometimes for as long as a few weeks. But, this time, I'd just deal with the interruption, then get straight back to writing.
What helped, I think, is that I didn't plot out anything ahead. I started with a setting, a handful of crazy characters, and one wacky little premise, and just let it roll from there. I wrote blind---meaning that I rarely knew what was going to happen next. I fell in love with the story and really wanted to see how it would end. That's how I kept writing. I was the book's author and it's first reader simultaneously. I wrote it for myself. And it still hasn't been published, by the way. It is what's known as an Oddball Romance---very difficult to place. But I had to do it to get myself back in gear. And, as a fringe benefit, I got a fun read out of it. I mean, I love a good book---even if I have to glue my fanny to a chair and write it myself.
Was it difficult to get a publisher to look at your stuff after so many years?
Oddly enough, in the case of I Do, it was not. I was incredibly lucky. But, just like my first time around, I was also desperate to be published and a little bit gutsy about it. I broke a long standing rule by actually calling the publisher. Not right off the bat, you understand. I followed protocol by submitting a proposal the usual way. But three months later, I was tired of waiting for a response, so I took a deep breath and called Dorchester. This is the fun part, because the editorial director at Dorchester is Alicia Condon, who was the editor of my MacFadden romance. I didn't expect her to remember me after 25 years, and I was absolutely right---she didn't remember me. We hardly even mentioned MacFadden, in fact. I just inquired as to the status of I Do (which was then called Eyes of the Cat) and she said she hadn't seen the proposal, but would check around to see where it might have landed. She said she'd call back. She never did.
I waited several more weeks, then called her again. She still didn't remember me from MacFadden, but she did remember my previous call and was nicely apologetic that she had never been able to locate my proposal for I Do. I asked if I could resubmit it and she said sure. I did and, this time, only waited ten days before calling. I just wanted to make sure that the proposal had, indeed, reached her. It had, but she hadn't had the chance to look at it yet, naturally. She said she'd be in touch; we hung up; and I began girding my loins for another long wait. An hour later I almost had a heart attack when the phone rang and it was her. She had just read the proposal. She liked it. Could I send her the completed manuscript?... Dang straight, I could!... We hung up again and there followed several minutes of wild whoops and fervent prayers of thanks---on my side. I don't know what she was doing. But wait---it gets better.
That call came on a Monday afternoon. Wednesday morning I was frantically searching for something to use as a manuscript box, so I could get my baby in the mail, when the phone rings. It was Alicia and she said she had been rethinking the whole thing. My heart sank and I held my breath, waiting for the dreaded rejection. It never came. She had simply decided that she didn't need to see the entire manuscript first. She wanted to make me an offer right then.
I'm glad I was sitting at the time, because I doubt my legs would have held me. To say I was stunned doesn't even come close. I mean, it's not supposed to happen like that. It was so fast. And, on the surface, it seemed so easy. But surfaces can be very deceptive. This one was just the tiny tip of a mamouth iceberg. Underneath and leading up to this were 25 long, rough years of work and struggle---and one small, flickering hope that just refused to go away. That's why the dedication to I Do reads: "To impossible dreams---and all those who dare to pursue them."
Tell us about I Do. The description is intriguing, to say the least.
Thank you very much! I wanted something that could be enjoyed by everyone and I took a very culinary approach to its creation. Think of preparing a feast. First, I gathered my ingredients. I started with the golden age of the American West and plunked a medieval Scottish castle right down in its center for some gothic flavor. To that, I added a headstrong comic heroine who hates men and tied her to a hero that no female in her right mind could hate for long. Then I turned up the heat and let it simmer awhile in steamy sexual tension. The aroma was delicious, but I wasn't sure if this was enough for a full meal. So I tossed in yet another hero and heroine, an eccentric clan of Highlanders, some villany, a few mysteries, and a very curious cat. This was good---I was finally getting somewhere. Season the whole thing liberally with comedy and suspense... and Voila! Bon Appetit!
All kidding aside, though, I Do is a battle-of-wills romance, where a bright young woman--- who thinks she knows her own mind---finds herself married to a man she had never before met. Suddenly her own mind is no longer so clear to her---and her body is becoming downright rebellious. Her new husband's embraces are extremely difficult to ignor. What an incorrigible rogue! It takes her a while to realize who the true villain is. And, by then, it's almost too late....
Do you plan to continue writing romance, now that you are back?
DEFINITELY!! Wild horses couldn't drag me away. The next time I stop writing, it'll be because I've stopped breathing, as well. And maybe I won't even stop then.
How can readers contact you?
Glad you asked, because I love hearing from readers and I'll answer anyone who is kind enough to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. You can write to me at:
2303 FM 836
Spur, Texas 79370
Mimi, thanks for joining us, and best of luck!
November 2, 2003