How a simple question opened the floodgates of creativity for this author

Anna J. Stewart

This author’s editor asked her a simple question that opened the floodgates of creativity and changed the trajectory of her career.

by Anna J. Stewart

“What do you want to write?”

Six words that ended up changing my life. Well, maybe not my life, but perhaps my career trajectory.

When my editor at Caezik Romance (a new imprint of Arc Manor) spoke those words, I had no idea the power both the question and the answer held. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my career so far. With over twenty-five romances published with Harlequin, I all but fell into working with Arc Manor when they were publishing a wonderful, romance-centric magazine featuring across-the-genre novellas and short stories. Hearing that they planned to branch out into publishing a romance imprint (that would become Caezik romance) made me hope that maybe I’d discovered a new avenue for publishing (I’m a traditional publishing gal at heart). Little did I know that what would soon follow was that question, what do you want to write?

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It’s no secret that my first love in the romance genre is paranormal. But I don’t write anything that’s easily pigeonholed or defined. It takes … work … to explain what I write (“magical worlds in your own backyard” perhaps comes closest). My first instinct when speaking with my editor was to yell that answer out: paranormal—a no brainer, as I have at least three completed projects just waiting in the wings. Except I didn’t get the chance to answer. That’s right, there’s always a catch in every opportunity. LOL.

Her question probably should have been, “What do you want to write that isn’t paranormal?”

With this, I had the green light to write whatever I wanted, however I wanted to write it—provided it was a romance.

Thankfully, I always have a head full of ideas and I rarely, if ever, think of a one-off book. All of my ideas are always series long: three, five, or even seven books to a collection. I did a quick flip through my mental filing cabinet and ended up suggesting one of my newer ideas—one that would be based in Hollywood. I called it my Women’s Murder Club meets L.A. Confidential. And just like that, she said, “That’s perfect.”

Ever since publishing my first novella with Harlequin back in 2014, most, if not all, of my stories have been required to meet certain expectations. There are guidelines I need to follow, language choice, types of storylines, some things that are more restricted than others, but for the most part, I’ve always felt pretty free and clear as to what I could offer as a final project. But with this series?

Oh, with this, I had the green light to write whatever I wanted, however I wanted to write it. Provided it was a romance. Easy enough. I don’t know how to write anything else.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as an author is to say yes to career opportunities and figure the rest out later.

It was as if a floodgate of creativity I didn’t realize I had suddenly opened and whoosh! Soon after, I wrote the opening scene to Exposed. And didn’t look back.

This first book in my Circle of the Red Lily romantic suspense series is what I call a “kitchen sink” book. It’s got a little bit of everything in it: romance, adventure, suspense, comic relief. But as with all my stories, it is first and foremost about family—the family we make for ourselves as we move through this crazy experience called life. Not only did I get to create a new group of characters I’m already in love with, but I was able to bring so many of my own interests into this story. Classic Hollywood intrigue, photography, law enforcement (I love a good crime drama), secret societies, and most importantly, I feel as if I’ve found my authentic true voice with Exposed. It just felt … right. From the first word all the way to the end. Maybe I’ve blocked out the difficult days (I know I had some), but by the time I got to the end of this book, I felt as if I’d taken a significant shift.

Which brings me to the most important lesson I’ve learned as an author: to say yes to career opportunities and figure the rest out later. Chances like the one I was given do not present themselves very often. Saying no closes doors with little to no chance of them ever opening again. But saying yes? Oh, from there so many options that suddenly appear. Maybe not all good, but it’s always better to have many paths as opposed to none. Saying yes gave me the chance to write a book free of restrictions and expectations—except for the ones I placed on myself. And the result? The start to a new series I cannot wait to continue!

USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart writes fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines and the men who love them. Since her first novella with Harlequin in 2014, Anna has written and published more than forty romances in multiple sub-genres. When she’s not writing, you can find Anna cooking and baking, binge-watching classic TV and cooking shows, attending fan conventions, or heading to the movies.

Read more about Anna, her books, and the writing workshops she offers at her website.

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