Romance Writer Changes Her Subject

Romance Writer Changes Her Subject

How is life in Arlington?

I live on the same block in Arlington that I have lived on since 1978. Both of my girls went to Jamestown and Williamsburg. I was really involved in the Girl Scouts with them. I was a leader of two troops. Over the years I have been involved with writers workshops in the classrooms and the Junior Great Books discussions for kids. We belong to the Chesterbrook Pool and I wrote the Dive Team Newsletter. We are members of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. I belong to the Arlington Women's Civic Alliance which is a fundraising and community service organization. It's a hands on grassroots organization that helps the community, battered women and others. I love to give talks around the community. And, I sew. I make fabulous Halloween costumes.

What was your family like growing up?

My father was in Chemistry at the University of Kansas. While in grad school at the University of Berkeley he was asked to work on a secret project, which we now know is called The Manhattan Project. He developed beryllium poisoning. Two years after his diagnosis I was born. We did not expect him to live, but fortunately we were able to have many years with him. He died two years ago.

My mother was a pediatrician by the age of 22. The war was heating up and they started sending pre-meds in early. I had a sister and a brother and was the youngest of three. My brother works in Public Relations in New York and my sister is a social worker in St. Paul.

How's your family life now?

I have been married since my senior year in college-30 years. My husband works in Information systems as a consultant. He wrote a book, too, called "Investing in College Basketball".

I have two girls. My 20 year old is a sophomore at the University of Chicago, where my husband and I went. My other daughter is a senior at Georgetown Day and is almost 18 years old.

Where did you receive your education?

I got my BA from the University of Chicago in '73 and my MA/Ph.D. from John Hopkins in '78. After grad school I taught at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). I should have been turning my grad work into journal articles, but instead I spent days doing nothing about it.

What steered you to writing as a career?

When I was a kid I thought the most important thing you could do was write a book (I don't believe that anymore. Now I believe that it's to raise good kids). I daydreamed and fantasized all the time. I was embarrassed about it. Then I realized that those weren't daydreams, they were plots and characters. So, I started writing about it. Within one hour I realized - this is what I am supposed to be doing.

How do you decide on a topic to write about?

I find that what's interesting in my own life is not necessarily my marriage-but my other relationships with friends and other people. How child rearing impacts your relationship with other women. It's not always the primary romantic relationship.

How did your fist attempt at writing pan out?

I developed my first manuscript and it was going to be a "novel to change the world". I was 27 or 28 years old. Needless to say, agents wrote "NO" across the top of it. The problem was that I was thinking like a grad student. I wanted to show people how smart I was. That's not what people read a book for. Finally, I found my audience amongst a group of friends. Housewives. They would read it once, not look to it for information. I went from being a writer that wanted to change the world to one that would change their afternoons. I knew I was on the right tract when I saw my sister smiling while reading my manuscript. This is what I do.

Does being published ever intimidate you?

There is an embarrassment factor and most first manuscripts don't get published. So there is that risk of failure. Then there are the people that you know that read your books. First to see if they are in it. Then to see portraits of you- autobiographical elements.

What was your first book?

My first book was called "The Same Last Name". It was a romance published by Harlequin. I did six books for them. Four in the American line and two longer. They create a brand with a market position and the books are as realistic as a romance can be. Then, I moved to single title releases. I wrote two for Pocket, two for New American Library and two for Harper Collins-Avon.

Are you changing your focus from romance?

Yes. I have my first clearly non-romance novel is coming out in hard cover Feb. 22. published by St. Martin's Press. I am more interested these days in family issues. I don't have much more to say about people falling in love.

What is the new novel about? It's called "A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity" and it's about private school moms. It's about what happens when you realize your daughter is one of the popular girls. None of the how to books tell you how to deal with the stereotypes. I thought they were the bitchy girls and the heroine in the story is unequipped because she was not popular. The book starts on the first day of sixth grade and the intended audience is moms, not young girls. It talks about the pressures by other mothers of the unpopular girls for inclusion and introduces the new kid on the block situation. These are thing that all moms are dealing with but it's not really talked about.

We expect our daughters to have similar experiences to ours and we sometimes even try and manipulate their social lives to mirror ours.

What is on the horizon?

I am working on another book off and on. Slowly. Not a romance. It's more about life stages. It's about a mother of a groom and a child affiliating with another family and relating to another family. My focus is on family and family issues now.

Do you still what to change the world with that one great book? No. No. Because not even self-help books change lives. The biggest change from romance writing to this kind of novel is that in romance you have the strong fantasy element. You pick it up because you want to be somewhere else, be someone else. My core reader can reflect on issues that she will encounter. Fictional sociology.

<1b>— By Kim Kempf