Today I welcome romance author Sandy James, who is not only the first person I met when I joined the Indiana chapter of RWA, but she is also one of my critique partners. I’ve learned so much from Sandy about writing and about writing romance in particular. Sandy lives in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis, where she teaches psychology. She owns a small stable of harness racehorses and enjoys spending time at Hoosier Park racetrack. Published through Forever Yours, Carina Press, and indie-published, she has been an Amazon #1 Bestseller multiple times and has won numerous awards including two HOLT Medallions. Sandy is represented by Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller Literary. Please visit her website at sandyjames.com for more information or find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as “sandyjamesbooks.” Take it away, Sandy!
Thanks for letting me have a turn at your blog, Nan!
Nan and I have been critique partners for years, and we’re very close. Because we’re good friends, she knows how crazy my life has been for the past few years. So please allow me to share with all of you who don’t know me something that Nan has been helping me through. My husband Jeff passed away from colon cancer a little over a year ago. She suggested I might want to talk about how my writing has been affected by the chaos that comes with that kind of life changing event.
I was wrapping up the fourth book of a four-book contract with Grand Central Forever in December of 2014. All that remained were copy edits, which are usually fairly easy since I refuse to get into any argument with a copy editor. They are usually right. J So I just needed to get the file from the copy editor, go through any suggested changes, and then get it back to my publisher. In that waiting mode, I focused on final exams for my students. I’ve been a high school psychology teacher for twenty-four years, and while I adore writing, I still need to teach to pay the bills.
Anyway…the night before the last day of finals, I had to take Jeff to the Emergency Room for what we thought might be either a gastro bug or a flare of his Crohn’s disease. Instead, we discovered he’d perforated his intestines. After emergency surgery, he was sent to ICU. About twenty-four hours later, he’d become septic. Thus began our odyssey.
Jeff was in a drug-induced coma on full life-support for ten days, fighting for his life against an overpowering infection. During that time, my copy edits arrived. I worked on them with my computer on my lap, editing with my right hand and holding Jeff’s hand with my left. To my editor’s defense, she told me they could wait however long I needed to put them aside. I replied that I was bored to tears and the edits would be distracting. So…edits were done; contract was complete. Then I was told that the perforation hadn’t been caused by his Crohn’s. Jeff had colon cancer. I had to tell him that when we was finally recovered enough to be awakened and taken off the ventilator.
His fight against that bastard disease lasted two years. We went through two rounds of chemotherapy and two of radiation, and we just couldn’t stay ahead of the disease. During those two years, writing became difficult, to say the least. I tried. Heaven knows I tried because writing had become so much a part of me that the thought of not writing seemed untenable. But I quickly discovered that it’s impossible to write romance when you are watching the person you love most in the world struggling. Then a new contract was offered by Grand Central on an idea my agent and I had developed before Jeff’s illness. While my editor was more than willing to wait, I was terrified of losing the momentum I’d been gathering in building a readership. So I tried to write the first book.
The chapters came in fits and spurts. Then we reached what we hoped was a remission of his cancer, and I got the first book done. It even went to first round developmental edits, and I was ready to polish the story and to get to work on the second of the three-book contract. But bad news was in the offing. His cancer had spread to his lung. Thankfully, my editor was amazingly supportive, and we put the series on the back burner for over a year.
To my sorrow, I lost Jeff on September 21, 2016. I had been married to him for nearly thirty-four years, ever since I was nineteen years old. I suddenly found myself alone and having no clue how to live solo. Writing? It was so far from my thought process, it didn’t even register on my radar for the first few months. I had to learn to live life again first.
But the world keeps spinning. I went back to teaching after having been on leave to care for Jeff full-time during the last months of his life. Being back to work was balm for my soul, and my family, students, and colleagues were the best support system I could ever have asked for.
So that January, I went back to work on the new books and did some extensive edits on the first of my Nashville Dreams series. When my editor was pleased with that work, I went about writing book two (which is the book that came out on January 16—Can’t Let Her Go.) Slowly, the mojo returned. By book three, I was becoming myself again, at least myself the writer.
Now, I’m living a new life. It’s not the one I wanted nor the one I planned, but it’s a good life. I have two amazing kids, two even more amazing grandchildren, and my schnauzer Max who keeps me on my toes. And I’m writing almost every day. Currently, I’m finishing edits on “Can’t Fight the Feeling,” which releases on May 8. One new project that I’m working on just for me is a book about all Jeff went through. I’m going to call it If You’re Lucky… since that was what he would say to me every morning before we left for work when I’d tell him that I loved him and would see him that evening. And I was lucky—very, very lucky—to have had him in my life.
Be sure to check out Sandy’s Nashville Dreams series, including Can’t Let her Go, which released on January 16.
In Nashville the music is louder, the dreams are bigger, and love can bring a cowboy to his knees.
Ethan Walker is Nashville royalty. Born to the King and Queen of Country Music, he’s spent his life trying to escape the spotlight of his parents’ fame, even walking away from his own promising singing career. He’s the kind of cowboy who prefers flannel to flashbulbs, hay fields to hit records, and the solitude of his horse farm to the nightlife along Music Row. The last thing he wants is attention, especially when it comes from country’s latest star…
Chelsea Harris’s meteoric rise up the charts and string of celebrity boyfriends mean that wherever she goes, the paparazzi follow. A duet with Nashville’s favorite son is exactly what her new charity album needs, but when she approaches Ethan, he turns her down flat. To win the camera-shy cowboy over, Chelsea will have to approach him on his terms. Trouble is, the more time she spends on his farm, the more Ethan wants to keep her there.
The Nashville Dreams series:
Can’t Walk Away
Can’t Let Her Go
Can’t Fight the Feeling