Jenny Clark's interesting fact for her second Jeopardy! audition? She is a medical physicist by day, a romance writer by night.
At the Lexington Clinic, Clark maintains the accelerator that delivers radiation to cancer patients. At home, she is putting the final touches on her first novel, a 17th-century time-travel romance.
Her professional and writing worlds are not as disparate as they seem. Her book's main character is a modern medical physicist from Lexington's Masterson Station neighborhood. Clark and her colleagues host book clubs together. And she has been dispatching the romance-writing equivalent of job applications, sending out as many as 20 queries to publishers and agents, pitching her book.
"I really want to be published," she said.
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Clark's story might seem unique, but her passion to write exemplifies the romance writing scene for Kentuckians in the genre. Many have held novelist aspirations since middle school, but almost no one writes as a vocation. Most romance authors support themselves through another full-time job. A good number flaunt their state pride in their work, often using the Bluegrass State as inspiration. And they enjoy vibrant support networks through their family, friends and professional organizations.
A friendly industry
Kentucky Romance Writers, a chapter of the national Romance Writers of America, started in 1990 as a forum for authors to exchange ideas, share news and provide moral support.
President Kathy Logan says the group of 43 authors is an eclectic bunch. There are extroverts and introverts, a diversity of characters and varied occupations. But they all share one passion.
"I think there's something about the personality that can sit all day and talk to imaginary people," she said of her writing colleagues. "Some people think we're crazy, but that's just part of the life of writing. I just love it."
The group is composed largely of women in their 20s to 50s, but there is one man: Michael Embry of Frankfort.
Embry has written non-fiction sports books and contemporary novels, but he said it is "difficult for a man to break into the romance market." In a genre that is written primarily by women for women, many men might write with female pseudonyms or initials.
Despite the gender challenge, Embry said his membership in Kentucky Romance Writers has been pivotal in his growth as an author.
"In my experience, writing groups come and go, but this group has dedicated members who keep it going with regular meetings, workshops, group book signings," he said. "This organization has a lot of published authors who are more than willing to share their secrets for success."
For many writers — published and unpublished — the mentoring opportunities that such an association can offer are invaluable.
"I thought I was one of those people that could sit at home by myself and write," said Logan, a widow who lives with her mother in Lexington. "But everyone needs a support group and a group to help you promote."
Professional networks are not the only help that authors receive. Logan said educational institutions such as the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington offer regular writing workshops, and informal support exists as well.
When she was writing her next book — a time-travel novel set on a family farm on Old Frankfort Pike — she conducted research on pastures, Lexington Civil War history and horses. Logan raves of the kindness of people she has contacted in the process: authors-in-residence at the Carnegie Center, University of Kentucky professors, former jockey Pat Day and a radiocarbon dating expert in New Zealand.
"Just pick up the phone and call anybody that you know has the information," she said. "People love to share information with you when they know that you're writing a story."
The right place
J.R. Ward, the only Kentucky author in Kentucky Romance Writers who supports herself financially through writing, had long disregarded her dreams of a romance-writing career as unrealistic. She went to law school and was working in health care administration when her first book got picked up by an agent. Since then, Ward has written 19 books, several of which have reached No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.
Ward finds writing to be a solitary endeavor; she treats it as "a much more quiet process" than do some of her colleagues. But even though she does not use workshops and critique groups, Ward, a New England native, said the quality of life in Kentucky is perfect for her writing.
"The pace of life down here is very conducive to writing. ... It's slower in a good way," she said. "Here I can really focus."
Like Clark, many Kentucky authors choose to draw on local backdrops for their novels.
Jennifer Madden, a former deputy sheriff, is hoping to publish her first book. Preliminarily titled Snickers and Snorts, the novel centers on a Kentucky horse farm owner and his love, a police officer. Her own small-town upbringing inspires the work.
"Kentucky is so equine-based, and I have horses — it just seemed natural to put cops and horses," Madden said.
When her friends discover her hobby, "they kind of laugh," she said. Madden's tough personality makes the idea of her romance writing "odd to put into their minds," she said.
Some people scoff, but others promise to buy her first book when it is printed. And her family has been nothing but supportive. Her husband encouraged her to resign her job, stay home with their two children and write.
Her dream? "Write romance profitably," Madden said.
Madden's ambition is one that many authors share.
"Everyone I know writing would love to stay home and do it full-time," said Logan, an executive assistant to the president of a mining-machinery company.
Heather Turner of Nicholasville wrote and sent in her first book to a publisher under a pen name, Sophia Danu. A computer programmer by trade, she went through the publishing process in secret; not even her family and friends knew.
"When I first turned it in, I didn't tell anybody. If I was going to be rejected, I didn't want anyone to know," Turner said. "But then when I got accepted, I wanted to spread the word so that they could buy my book."
Turner has enjoyed a 100 percent success rate submitting her work to online publishers. Writing has proved profitable, she said, but not enough for her to make it a career.
For authors, online publishing, or e-publishing, has become an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional New York publishing houses.
"With all of the (Amazon) Kindles, reading devices, and how everything's gone to computers, it seems like that is the way of the future," Turner said of e-books.
Several writers have enjoyed greater success in submitting their work to the smaller presses.
But e-books might not be the most lucrative avenue.
"If you do your research as an up-and-comer, you know going into it that your earnings will be a pittance," said Tracy Preston, a Kentucky romance author. "Do mass-market publishers pay out more royalties? Heck, yeah."
Logan said that e-book publishers pay royalties of about 30 percent on online downloads and 7 percent for print books. In contrast to contracts with New York publishing houses, there is no advance lump sum. Although "you don't get rich," most authors write for the love of it, Logan said.
Many Kentucky writers reflect this reality — that romance is their passion and their hobby.
"I want to write about love and people getting together," Turner said. "That's big for me."
As an emotional person herself, Clark, the medical physicist/romance writer, loves to get emotionally involved with her characters.
There's "so much junk going on in the world that it feels good to get to the end of a book," she said.
Clark's sentiment captures the essence of one universal term used around the world of romance writing: "HEA." What does it stand for?
"Happily ever after."