Writer Inspiration: Rose Lerner

by Marie-Claude Bourque

I am delighted to host Regency debut author Rose Lerner. I am very excited to read her book because Regency is my favorite genre when I need to kick back and the excerpts I read so far really want to make me get my hands on this book as soon as I can!

When we look at authors that make it into publishing, we forget sometimes that behind the name on the spine is a real life.  Yes, it is wonderful to finally get published but there are also the real life of a person with its joy and pain behind that name. We all have our reasons to write and our own challenges while keeping at it.


When Marie-Claude asked me to write a post that would help inspire unpublished authors, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about. And then I put off writing the post for weeks. Because the three years between when I started writing In for a Penny and when I sold it were the three worst years of my writing life, hands down. Possibly the three worst years of my life, period, except I think junior year of high school still has that honor (and yes, I know that’s only one year, but it felt longer).

I started writing In for a Penny in mid-January 2006. By mid-March I’d written a hundred pages. Things were going great, the book was flowing, I felt confident that this would be the one that would sell. My goal was to finish the book by Rosh Hashanah of that year (the holiday falls in early to mid-September), and I thought I could do it.

At the end of March I found out my mom was dying.

She’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the fall of ’03, and she’d been on chemo almost continually since then. Her remissions never lasted. In February and March she was in and out of the hospital with inexplicable digestive problems. I still wasn’t prepared.

I spent the next two months living in my parents’ house. She died on May 24th.

Sometimes I see a writer say that they write just for themselves. That if no one else ever read anything they wrote, that would be okay, because the important thing is the writing. I am really, really not that person. For me, the heart of writing is communication, sharing the story in my head with someone else. I write with my audience in mind. And ever since my first romance manuscript, back when I was seventeen, my mom had been my imagined audience. Knowing that she would enjoy the story, that she would like this scene or laugh at that joke or hate this villain, was what motivated me to write. There are still several lines in In for a Penny that were in-jokes for the two of us, and probably no one else will ever get them, but I left them in anyway.

Knowing that she would never read In for a Penny, I didn’t feel like writing it. Between the end of March and the beginning of October, when I went to the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, I’d written maybe thirty-five pages. At the conference, I went to a goals workshop, got my ass in gear, and entered Cherry Adair’s Finish the Damn Book challenge. I outlined, I plotted, I came up with a complicated goals system, and I forced myself to write that book. It was a miserable, grueling process. It felt like a death march. I still didn’t feel good about my writing, I didn’t really believe I’d ever be a published author, but I sat down at my computer every day and churned out words. I didn’t meet my deadline, but I did have a rough draft by the time the ECWC rolled around in October 2007. And when I say “rough,” I mean rough. This thing was 500 pages long and a mess. And I hated it. I never wanted to look at it again, ever.

I made myself a promise. I would pitch the book at the ECWC, but I didn’t have to revise it unless I got a request for a full. Well, one of the people I pitched to at that conference was Leah Hultenschmidt, from Dorchester. She asked for a partial. I sent it off, and I didn’t hear from her and I didn’t hear from her and man, was I relieved. I took it easy, and I didn’t think about In for a Penny. I didn’t revise, I didn’t send out queries, I didn’t start my next book.

The funny thing is, I didn’t stop writing. I just started writing short stories and sharing them with my friends online. I wrote lots of them. Because the thing was, I could write a story, put it up, and right away people would leave me feedback. I knew that someone was going to read what I wrote and love it, and I just didn’t have that confidence with historical romance anymore. I started to worry that me and historical romance were over, that I’d lost the spark and I was never getting it back, and I still couldn’t bring myself to try again. Then, in June, Leah sent me a request for a full manuscript.

I panicked. Full-on panicked. I sent whiny e-mails to all my friends about how I was going to spend weeks revising this story I hated and then I was just going to get rejected. I had no idea if I could turn this 500-page mess into something even remotely presentable.

But I opened up the file and started reading, and…I liked it. It was actually kind of good. Rambling and unfocused and there were a couple of minor characters that didn’t really need to be there, but I loved my hero and heroine and hey, there were some pretty funny jokes in there that I’d completely forgotten about. I dived in, working for hours every day. It was stressful, but I enjoyed it. Just the hint of the possibility of publication and people actually reading the story was enough to get me moving again. At the end of the month I sent it off. I didn’t hear, and I didn’t hear, and I figured that was that. But even so, that little hint was enough to get me working on another book. And then in February of last year, I got the call from Leah asking to buy In for a Penny.

The rest is history. In for a Penny is out this month, and my next book, Lily Among Thorns, will be out next January. I still struggle with motivation and time management, but who doesn’t? My imaginary audience now is my critique group, a couple of my friends, and, you know, I still sometimes put in a joke I know my mom would have laughed at.

But most of all, my imaginary audience now is you. I know someone’s going to be reading my stories, and it feels fantastic. I am so, so excited to get reader feedback on In for a Penny, I can’t tell you.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is. I’m not, actually, just telling you to buck up and write no matter how awful you feel. Writing this book was really unpleasant and it almost killed my love for writing historical romance. But…in the end, it did pay off. By a combination of work, incredible support and patience from my friends, and amazing luck, I got where I always wanted to be. So I guess the moral is just that–it can pay off. It’s not silly to hope. No matter how awful you feel, you don’t know what’s around the next corner. I hope you all are as lucky as I was.

Aaaaand, now I’m going to sign off before I start full-on crying. Thanks so much for having me! I’ll be giving a signed copy of In for a Penny to a randomly-chosen commenter on this post.

I’m also running a contest on my site–five signed copies, plus a package of ten of my favorite
Regency-set novels, here:


Thank you so much for your inpirational post Rose. Congratulation on this debut book. I am so glad that a second one is coming soon.

To everyone, you can find more about In for a Penny at http://www.roselerner.com/bookshelf/inforapenny.html and don’t forget to leave us a comment to win a copy of Rose’s novel. I am curious, have you ever have time when writing was harder due to life’s hardships?

33 Responses to Writer Inspiration: Rose Lerner

  1. jbrayweber says:

    Wow! What an inspirational story, Rose. there are so many trials and tribulations authors go through. Sometimes it’s hard to hang on when things look so bleak. Your story is encouraging. Thank you so much for sharing and congrats on your debut.



  2. J says:

    In For a Penny sounds like a fun read, and it’s wonderful people will get the chance to read a story that probably means a lot to you. It’s wonderful you were able to keep writing and find quicker ways to share on-line that worked for you! I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing.


  3. I actually found that writing saved my sanity when we went through cancer treatments with out daughter and then she died. I think my writing and the wonderful writing friends I have pulled me through the darkest days of my life.

    So glad you finished your story and I feel it will help those who read it.


  4. Rose Lerner says:

    Jenn–Thanks! Writers have to be pretty tough, don’t they? And I usually find that sharing is its own reward, in these cases. 🙂

    J–Thanks! If you read the book, let me know what you think! Yes, I was very lucky to find ways to keep writing. And really looking over this post I want to qualify my initial statement that those were the three worst years of my writing life–that third year of taking a break from trying to write for publication was actually a great year for me, personally and in terms of writing, and I’m proud of a lot of things I wrote then. It was just an awful year for romance novel writing. This is what I get for going back and figuring out the chronology AFTER I wrote the intro, and also for writing emotional posts late at night!


  5. Beautiful (although sad) story! Thanks for sharing it. I look forward to reading your book.


  6. marymccall says:

    Hi Rose, so glad you got back to writing. My mom’s in her second childhood, but still write for her. She was and always will be one of my best motivators. Writing romance can be such a great cathartic release, which may be why so many of us do it. But my hats off to you and congrats on your upcoming release!


  7. I’m looking forward to reading your book, Rose! And thanks for sharing your story — writing is never easy, but you’ve proven you have what it takes to be a success in this field. And I’m so glad you still have the historical mojo!


  8. Gwen says:


    Thank you for sharing such a sad yet optimistic story. It takes real guts to pick up and carry on like you did, and to share such a tender part of yourself with us. I feel lucky to know you! I am not surprised you’ve made it this far (and have much farther to go) because I have a feeling you were meant for this. I can’t wait to read In For A Penny. (Okay, I *did* cry – I’m a sap, what can I say?)

    I feel extremely lucky that life has been kind to me since I discovered my passion for writing, but I will remember this story when things get rough. But, we are writers, and life is the fuel for our engines, even if that means we take our pain and make art out of it.

    My mom is an inspiration to me, too, and in fact she had a similar experience. She was playing the lead in her University’s performance of Guilty Conscience when I was eight years old. My grandmother passed away on opening day. I remember watching all the other actresses scrambling to get enough makeup on my mom to hide the puffy eyes. They had the understudy on standby and the director was a nervous wreck, but a few minutes before curtain, my mom pulled me aside, hugged me breathless and said, “The show must go on.” Those words have never rung truer and I’ll never forget that performance – I saw every rehearsal and I can safely say, that was the best one.

    I’m sure your mom is very, very proud of you.



  9. Debby Lee says:

    Dear Rose, what an inspiring story, and I bet In for a Penny is just as inspiring and encouraging. I can’t wait to read it. Bless you for hanging in there when life got tough.
    Love and hugs from Debby Lee


  10. I’m eager to read “In for a Penny.” I’m sure I will love it!
    thanks for sharing your personal journey-story.
    I’ll see you at Emerald City.


  11. Rose,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Hugs and congrats on the book. Here’s hoping it jumps off the shelves.



  12. Rose Lerner says:

    Paisley–I’m so sorry about your daughter! And boy, do I know what you mean about writing saving your sanity. I actually wish I could have written more during Mom’s last months because I’m sure not doing so made everything that much worse…it was a weird situation because I was living at my parents’ house in my hometown away from all my friends, and spending most of my time with Mom, so all my computer time was after she went to sleep and I needed that to keep in touch with the outside world, but I really missed writing. Even when things are going fine for me, if I don’t write for a few days I start to get anxious and antsy.

    Debra–Thanks! It’s not something I talk about much, so it actually feels really nice to share. The power of writing, eh?

    Mary–Thank you! Moms are special, aren’t they? (Of course, no one can mess you up like a mother either–I know I was really lucky to get such a great one, and it sounds like you did too!) I remember how much it used to bug Mom how many nasty, awful mothers there are in historical romance, so I always try to put in at least one great parent in each of my books.

    Anthea–Aw, thanks! I’m glad I still have the historical mojo too. It felt like another huge loss when I thought I might not.

    Gwen–What an amazing story! I completely agree about life being the fuel for our engines, even when life sucks. One of my favorite quotes is from Gaudy Night, when Peter says to Harriet, “What does it matter if it hurts like hell, so long as it makes a good book?” I think I was too close to the experience to put much of it into this book, but one of these days…

    Debby Lee–Thanks so much–I hope you like it!

    Lynnette–Thanks! Ooh, see you at Emerald City! One of the best parts of every year. 🙂


  13. J says:

    Hi Rose, I wanted to let you know, the post didn’t read like you were minimizing the work you did that last year, just that the year was difficult and you were working on things that got more immediate feedback. 🙂 I’ll be sure to drop you a line when I get to read the book! The excerpt is great!


  14. Boone Brux says:

    I love your post. 2010 has been a trying and tough year already, but thanks to writing and the fabulous group of friends from my chapter and online, I’ve weathered it much better than I would have without them. I’m so sorry about your mother. That experience is never easy.

    Good luck with all your endeavors. These hard times give us a deep well to draw from.


  15. Rose Lerner says:


    J–Okay, good! And yay, I look forward to it!

    Boone–Ugh, I hope the rest of the year picks up for you! It’s never fun when you’re only three months in and it already feels like a losing fight. It’s amazing how much writing and writing friends can help though, isn’t it? And we really do come out of it better writers, which…I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t sound like much of a compensation to everyone, but… I think dealing with losing mom made me way better at writing about loss of all kinds (and in dealing with other people’s loss in real life without feeling uncomfortable). Would I rather have her back? Sure. But at the same time I’m genuinely grateful to have the added experience to draw on in putting myself in someone else’s shoes.


  16. Rose, what a wonderful story. I know your mom would be very, very proud of you. YOU have much to be proud of. Huge congratulations on the debut of your book. The cover is absolutely gorgeous!


  17. Rose, ~hugs~

    Thank you so very much for sharing your story. Inspirational and touching and honest. I’m a fan, and just can’t wait to read In for a Penny. I’m hearing so many wonderful things about this story. And such amazing reviews! Congratulations.


  18. Bonnie Vanak says:

    What an inspiring story, Rose. Kudos to you for finding the courage and strength to finish the book and carry on. I’m sure your mom is proud of you. Congrats on the release of In for a Penny, and wishing you many more!


  19. Monica Peters says:

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. After losing my first daughter to a heart defect, I was buried in the fog of grief. For seven years, I lived in that dark cloud and was unable to write a single word. I simply couldn’t build a world where my daughter didn’t exist. In 2008 the cloud began to dissipate and now I’m writing daily. My goal is publication, but I continue to write for myself, and to find myself again after a devastating loss.

    Good luck in your endeavors,


  20. Deb Stover says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, and (((hugs))). I went to contract on THE GIFT just before my husband’s cancer came out of remission, then fell seriously ill myself. I could not get back into the book after his death no matter how many times I reread the half that was already written. My editor and agent had told me to just let them know when I could finish, and they would put it back on the schedule. I finally told my editor I would never finish it if she didn’t give me a new deadline. Like you, I had to force myself to open a vein and put myself through the grueling process. And I’m glad we both did. Best of luck to you. I look forward to reading IN FOR A PENNY. I think you’re in for a lot more….


  21. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I’m so glad you perservered to be able to share your story with all of us (both personal and your novel!). I wish you the best of everything with this release and the next – how exciting!



  22. Rose Lerner says:

    Wendy–Thank you! Isn’t it great? I love the color scheme–red and gold is my favorite color combination!

    Gayle–Thank you! Have you got your author copies of yours yet??

    Bonnie–Thanks! I am wishing me the same thing. 🙂

    Monica–Oh wow, I’m so sorry about your daughter. I’m so glad and impressed that you’re finally figuring out a way to write again. That makes me so happy to hear! “I simply couldn’t build a world where my daughter didn’t exist”–that is the perfect way to put it. I hope someday I’ll be reading a post like this by you!

    Deb–Wow, that’s tough love. Sometimes it’s what we need! Even if it sucks at the time. How long a deadline did she set?

    Amanda and Marie-Claude–Thanks! EEE M-C, I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that!


  23. Deb Stover says:

    “Deb–Wow, that’s tough love. Sometimes it’s what we need! Even if it sucks at the time. How long a deadline did she set?”

    She asked me to set it, but once I did she put it on the schedule, had the art department dive right in, and production was right at it, so that put me nicely on the spot. 😉 That was November 2008, and I said February 1st. I emailed it to her January 31st. Late…. 🙂

    Remember, it was already half finished, but I’m a lot slower than I used to be.

    Good luck to you!



  24. Rose Lerner says:

    Deb–Three or four months for half a book isn’t slow! At least, not for me…


  25. Rose, Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve inspired me to forget the worries, suck up what life has dished and get to work.

    I love your voice and I’m sure your book is going to be a success.




  26. Rose Lerner says:

    Autumn–yay! You’re so welcome–that is all the reward I could ever want. Good luck writing! ::hugs::


  27. Sande Boritz Berger says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey and the uphill struggle to complete your work when the world around seemed bleak and abandoning. Continued success.


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  29. […] romance, geek TV, the East Coast/West Coast divide, and of course the big one: Kirk vs. Picard. MuseTracks. This was a tough one to write. My mom died of cancer when I was partway through writing In for a […]


  30. Welcome! says:

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  32. […] movies! “Romantically Speaking” podcast – Research, romance, and Kirk vs. Picard. MuseTracks – Writing through difficult times. The Chatelaines – Q&A – my call moment, […]


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