As wedding-planning season begins, love is definitely in the air. Then again, for romance writers, love – plus some compelling plot twists resolved by optimistic endings – is always in the air.
USA Today best-selling author Christy Hayes has certainly learned a thing or two about turning passion into a real page-turner. To date, the Alpharetta writer, who specializes in romance and women’s fiction, has published 12 books, two novellas, contributed to three anthologies and spent the past year ghostwriting a father-son memoir. Now she’s back to romance writing, working on book three in her most recent series.
Fans of her top-selling “Heart of Glass,” a contemporary romance set in South Carolina’s low country, will be happy to hear that news. A seductive story centered around magazine writer Kate Donovan and builder Danny Flannery, “Heart of Glass” follows the pair from young love through years of separation to a reunion that, initially, is anything but amorous. Nothing is as it seems, however, in this steamy tale of lust, longing and loss. Except, perhaps, the undeniable attraction between Kate and Danny. It’s a sexy, occasionally sad, but ultimately satisfying tale that keeps readers engaged all the way to the happy ending.
“I think the appeal of romance novels is there is nothing in the world like falling in love and the optimism of committing to spending the rest of your life with someone. Through the pages of a romance, women can experience the wonder and magic of falling in love over and over again,” Hayes said. “Romance is a great escape from the realities of life. And if you’re like me and fell in love long ago, it provides a way to relive those magical feelings.”
The story of how Hayes came to compose her particular brand of bliss is nearly as compelling as one of her storylines. Growing up in Marietta and graduating from Walton, she attended the University of Georgia, he majored in journalism. Upon graduation, she worked for the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta until, in 1997, she and husband, Chris, decided to start a family. Charlie and Lindsey soon arrived. Then, when Lindsey, now 16, entered kindergarten, Hayes began writing her first book.
“After spending four years in the nonprofit world and then almost a decade as a stay-at-home mom, I wasn’t sure I was up for the task,” she said.
A year later, she had completed her first manuscript. “The book was awful,” she admitted, “but finishing was a monumental task. I knew I could write. Now I needed to learn to write well.” That quest led her to the local chapter of Romance Writers of America as well as stacks of craft books and hours upon hours of practice.
Five years later, Hayes had five completed manuscripts – and a “mountain” of rejection letters from literary agents. It was 2010 and much had changed in the publishing world since she had begun writing. Some of it was discouraging, such as how hard the industry had been hit when the economy crashed in 2008, making it even more difficult for new writers to get book deals. But some of the changes turned out to be beneficial, at least for Hayes. Specifically, self-publishing was on the upswing.
“I’d had it with the query-wait routine and decided to take matters into my own hands,” she said. “It was scary back then because while (self-publishing) was on the rise, it was still considered a huge risk.”
Confident enough in her own work to take the plunge, Hayes self-published all five manuscripts in April 2011. “I wanted readers,” she said, “and I was ready to succeed or fail on my own.”
Far from being a piece of cake, self-publishing her deliciously sensuous stories involved “a huge learning curve” about every imaginable aspect of printing, from securing romantic cover art to formatting type for each distributor. Sales started slowly but, as Hayes learned the business and began marketing her books online through reader blogs and advertising, demand grew.
About two years later, she even hit the USA Today best-seller list with a timely sale and an ad in BookBub, a service that sends daily emails to readers with news of free and discounted e-books. That ad was for “Heart of Glass,” and, soon, readers everywhere were drinking in all the details about Kate and Danny’s delightfully tumultuous romance.
Seven books and various other projects later, Hayes has never regretted deciding to self-publish, an approach she says “is now considered a valid path to publication” replete with much step-by-step information on the Internet as well as a vibrant community of authors willing to help. After taking an extended break from writing romances to work on a father-son memoir, Hayes has returned to her first literary love – fiction – and particularly stories featuring one of her favorite themes: second-chance romances. As she said, “Who can’t relate to the awkwardness and emotions of dealing with an old flame?”
Indeed, “Heart of Glass” is a classic second-chance romance, as Kate is sent on assignment to interview Danny, her first and only love she walked away from six years earlier for reasons that become achingly clear to readers, if not – at least initially – to Danny.
“Love makes the world go round, and not surprisingly, all of my books feature two people falling in love for keeps,” Hayes said. The challenge for romance writers is to offer plot twists that are fresh and relevant, and Hayes delivers with books like, “The Accidental Encore,” which explores the world of online dating. After getting pointers from a single friend who helped guide her through Match.com, Hayes was even more content with the comfortable life she and Chris have created in Alpharetta. As she said, “Let’s just say I walked away from my interview happy to be happily married!”
It’s a matrimonial state she shares with all the fictional characters in her contemporary romances, which invariably end with couples heading for altars. Even her new-adult books, which bridge the gap between the genres of young adult and contemporary romance, have “happy for now,” if not “happily ever after,” endings. Explaining, Hayes said many young readers currently consider marriage a “throwaway” concept, so her books in the new-adult genre speak their language – but from her point of view. “As a believer in marriage, my characters, though young, find their forever loves,” Hayes said. And, for fans of her fiction, those forever loves have a wonderful tendency to pop back up in future books. Hayes’ “The Sweetheart Hoax” updates readers on Kate and Danny, who are now happily married and expecting their first child.
Just as such details provide a certain sort of fictional satisfaction for inquiring bookworms, Hayes is similarly bolstered by a career that, while she laughs and says will never make her a fortune, is still fulfilling in many other ways.
As she said, “I enjoy having something that engages my mind and creativity. I also love connecting with people who enjoy my work as well as other writers.”
For more about the author, go to christyhayes.com. Her novels are available in print or e-books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace.com, and as e-books only through Apple’s iBooks, Smashwords.com and Kobobooks.com. ■