Best-selling Romance authors and scholars meet with students

November 11, 2011

Taking full advantage of the international popular romance conference on campus Nov. 10-11, professors invited the presenters – scholars and best-selling authors – to class to lead a workshop in romance writing and to talk about becoming a novelist.

Students in English professor Pam Regis’ Popular Romance Fiction class got the chance to be romance novelists for a day in a workshop directed by Amy Burge, a Ph.D. candidate in the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York in the UK.  During “Reading the Romance: A Hands-On Harlequin Workshop,” students were given envelopes of cut-out words from a page of a Harlequin romance and had an hour to rearrange the words into their own version of the story.

Best-selling romance author Lisa Dale ’02 (seated) returns to the Hill to discuss romance writing with English professor Kathy Mangan’s (far left) Creative Writing class.

In English professor Kathy Mangan’s “Creative Writing: Fiction” class, students heard from alumna and author Lisa Dale ’02 about the intensive road to becoming a novelist. Dale, who holds a B.A. from McDaniel College and an M.F.A. from Fairleigh Dickinson, published her third romance novel, “Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier,” this year.

Fordham University English professor Mary Bly aka New York Times’ bestselling author Eloisa James gave the keynote speech to open the conference, “Popular Romance in the New Millennium,” which was designed to spark conversation among scholars and authors about recognition of the genre as legitimate and point toward the future of romance and romance criticism.

Bly was joined by 21 experts – authors and scholars alike – on panels that included “Studying the Popular Romance: Reading Nora Roberts,” “Creating a Sense of Self in Romance,” and “The Wired World of Romance Scholarship.”

Ella Fitzgerald’s “The Lady is a Tramp” played softly in the background while students in the workshop arranged and rearranged words in ways that reflected their own perceptions of romance novels. The results varied from straightforward narrative to metaphorical abstraction.

Senior Sara Krome, of New Windsor, Md., chose not to look at the original page “so I won’t be influenced. I’m doing it the English major way. Which is why I’m adding proper punctuation and grammar to my sentences,” she said with a laugh, as she glued the words “Jay feverishly clung tightly to her arms…” on her page.

Workshop director and conference participant Burge has done this once before, at a Feminist Activists conference in New York, with varied results.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. What surprised me most was the imagination. One person re-wrote it into a beautiful poem,” said Burge,  whose research seeks to break period discipline boundaries via a comparative study of Middle English romance and Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance.

Junior Marcela “D.L.” Santos, a romance blogger (, grouped her page of words in ideas rather than sentences, with marriage at the end, and one sentence in the beginning, “You don’t hate me as much as you think.” Santos, from Rockville, Md., hopes to circle back around to writing contemporary romance novels after her “stable” job as a law librarian.

Gluing her words down in a jumbled collage, junior Hannah Schiffman of New York, N.Y., sees it differently. “Romance novels are confusing and they don’t seem to follow any logical sense,” she said, explaining her visual representation of the words.

One of many pieces of advice best-selling author Dale gave the students in Mangan’s creative writing class is to prepare themselves for rejection. “The best thing I ever did for myself was change my mind about rejection,” she said. “I would think, ‘this is not me failing, it’s me trying.’”

Students asked a variety of questions, including her inspiration and process of writing, if she ever had trouble with her editors, her opinion on author blogs and websites, and what aided her as a writer most while in college.

The discussion was like “therapy in front of 30 people,” said Dale. “It really taught me a lot about myself and my writing.”