From the time I read Little Women (in third grade) I wanted to be a writer. While other girls bottle fed baby dolls, I sat at my mom’s old manual typewriter and pecked out my first book. When I was in seventh grade I read Jane Eyre and fell in love with historical romance, and I started sending my short stories to magazines. By the time I was in high school I could paper my walls with rejection slips but even that encouraged me. Many had notes scribbled on them: “You’ve got talent. Don’t give up.” Or, “Not for us—but keep trying.” I will bless those compassionate editors forever.
When I graduated I went to work as a secretary at Florida State University and took a few night classes. Still determined to get published, I continued to write. I was also determined not to get stuck in a small town for the rest of my life. Then I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s at a local movie house and knew I belonged in New York—where all the big magazines and books were done. I applied for a job as a flight attendant, which seemed the most logical way to make my move. It worked, and after training, I was based in Newark—just a 20-minute bus ride from Manhattan.
A passenger on one of my flights was the publisher of Teen Magazine and he suggested I try them with a story about a stewardess. I was thrilled when it was accepted and I got the grand sum of $150. I had done it—I was on my way! Then one day while sitting on my jump seat for takeoff, my crew mate was just finishing a paperback and asked if I wanted it. We were facing a long layover in Dayton where there wasn’t much to do so I happily accepted. It was The Flame and the Flower and I was hooked from the first page! I knew I had to write a historical.
I started querying publishers and lo and behold—an editor at Belmont Tower (which became Dorchester) wanted to meet with me! But instead of a historical, he asked me to write The Sky’s The Limit, a sexy stewardess romp.
I agreed, figuring I could talk him into a historical for my second book, but I had to write four contemporaries before Tower finally agreed to publish The Tavern House. I was young and inexperienced with virtually no college education but they liked my books so much that they published five of them as fast as I could crank them out. That led to a deal with Dell Publishing for Rituals, which came out to obscurity and remained there for almost a decade.
By then I’d quit flying and had moved to Los Angeles to work as a publicist for Columbia Pictures Television. Days of Our Lives was one of my shows, so I pitched Rituals to producer Ken Corday as an idea for a primetime drama. He turned it into the first ever made-for-syndication soap opera and it ran five nights a week for a year. Working in the entertainment industry was amazing. I got to write several episodes of Fantasy Island and Days of Our Lives and had a few more show ideas optioned. When Rituals was cancelled I went back to New York and returned to publishing. Over the next few years I worked as convention coordinator for Romantic Times (where I produced the first Mr. Romance Pageant); managing editor of Playgirl (twice!); editor of For The Bride; managing editor of Black Elegance and editor of Spice, a music fanzine. But historical romance was still my first love. Some twenty years after The Tavern House was published, I got it out, re-read it and was horrified. There were holes in it you could drive a coach-and-four through!
So I got the rights back and completely rewrote it. I changed the title to The Lodestone and self-published it as a Kindle and it has gotten some awesome reviews. My experience at Playgirl helped me develop the philosophy that when it comes to romance, foreplay is the better part of valor. In The Lodestone, I provide plenty of sensuality with various characters but I don’t let the hero (Drake) and the heroine (Cleome) consummate their love until the final chapter.
My next historical is a Civil War epic, Crossroads, and I was delighted to be able to weave in some intriguing time-travel elements in my new YA Paranormal trilogy, with co-author J. Gabriel Gates for HCI Books. Dark Territory (#1) came out in 2011 and Ghost Crown (#2) was just released. Both have received great reviews and are getting interest from producers as a possible TV series, and The Lodestone is being considered for a web series.
For more information: www.charlenekeel.com and I welcome your tweets: @charlenekeel.