When In Rome – Not The Saying But The Book By Gemma Townley

The first time I left the USA, it was 2005 and Gemma Townley’s chick lit novel When In Rome was my favorite book. Second, only to my love of writing, was my passion for history. And as a teenager and college student, I went through a long phase of interest in ancient civilizations. Roman, Greek, Etruscans, Phoenicians, the Toltecs – you name it, I was reading about it. But Rome was always the number one place on my travel bucket list.

So when I had the opportunity to go with a group of girlfriends, I booked my travel and jumped on a plane. I was there for two weeks and it was everything I hoped for. Delicious food, awe-inspiring ruins, gorgeous men and a great opportunity for me to practice my Italian skills (thank you Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone).

But I consider this trip most influential on my writing career, not because I returned inspired to write about Rome. No, I returned to North Carolina with the set goal of finally completing a novel, getting an agent and having my book published! And fine time I did that right? After all close to two decades had passed since I discovered S.E. Hinton. So as usual, I wrote the book I wanted to read. Chick lit was huge, it was my favorite genre and I’d read everything that had been published (mostly British chick lit + Kyra Davis) so I wrote a chick lit novel featuring four African-American friends trying to figure out life and love with a self-help book.

I shared this story with one good friend who gave feedback. And even then, I wasn’t aware that I needed beta readers or critique partners, it’s just that I was really writing this story for her and myself. And she gave helpful feedback, like – why is she dating this guy? I don’t like this character, why would she make that choice, etc. All good stuff, and I took her feedback and made the story better.

Eventually, I found an agent! This was a long time ago, guys. I had to print out copies of my manuscript – six – and mail them to my agent in a big box, so he could then send them to editors. It was a long process, a fun process but in the end, he wasn’t able to sell the book. Yes, chick lit was huge, but chick lit with an African-American character had a very small group of editors interested in acquiring. There was only one editor at St. Martins that was interested, but eventually, that dissolved to nothing. I was crushed, dear readers. Absolutely crushed. I was ready to quit my day job in marketing and declare myself a published author. But it didn’t happen. Not then.

I’d also written another book, an atmospheric ode to my southern fiction muses, Alice, Carson, and Flannery, about a beautiful bi-racial girl stuck in a small southern town teeming with secrets and racked with race and social class dysfunction. My agent left his agency and the owner reviewed the story, deciding she didn’t want to represent it. I made up all sorts of reason why that agent didn’t want to sell the book, but now with many years of experience under my belt, I realizie the truth.

It just wasn’t written well enough to sale. Anyway.

Alas, I was agentless again.  No real surprise there, the agency had brought me on for chick lit, not southern fiction so maybe that genre wasn’t their cup of tea. But I’d also had no other readers for that story – so it was probably a mess. I do know that it was way over 100K words -which just makes me cringe.

And then I got married and began having children. You guys, I forgot all about writing.

Another four years passed which included a trip to Okinawa, Japan where I was a stay-at-home mom. Faced with a lot of time on my hands – I began writing again. Before I began staying at home full-time, I’d worked at the library on Camp McTureous and discovered Barbara Erskine and her spooky reincarnation romances. I’ve read all of her books, but none impacted me like Lady Of Hay. What a book! I know a book is good when it makes me want to drop everything I’m doing and write a book too. And I did. I wrote my own version of a reincarnation romance. The intent was for it to be as dark and spooky as hers, but I couldn’t quite get that ominous sinister tone , so it’s a very different book from originally conceived but I still love it. It’s more fantasy rom-com, but what evs…

I’ve just recently revisited that book and began re-editing it with an eye to possibly trying to get it published since diverse rom-coms are trending right now.

Anyway… when I settled down ready to begin seriously writing again for publication, I realized that I didn’t want a repeat of last time. I wanted to understand the industry from the inside. I wanted to go behind the curtain, wanted to understand the process of how books are selected for pubishing. So when we moved back to the states, I completed a few internships in publishing. And discovered… that I loved the industry. I wanted to be a part of the business side. I enjoyed working with writers. I liked helping make stories better.

So what did I do? Did I use my knowledge to help get my own work published?


I began working in the publishing industry in 2011 helping other writers getting published.

And forgot all about my own dreams to write. Again.

Fast foward seven fun and successful years in the industry, I remembered that I wanted to write, too. I wanted to be a published author. So, I thought about what genre I wanted to write. I was currently in the throes of a love affair with mysteries – traditional and cozy – so a mystery it had to be. And I came up with an idea, and set the goal to write on holiday breaks and weekends and to have a draft completed in a year. A year and a half later, I’m 90,000 words in  (that will be edited down) and about 80% complete. But guess what guys (and at this point, even I have to admit I may be a little bit ADHD when it comes to writing), I came up with another idea.

And this idea came to me when I was exploring my husband’s Polish heritage. I knew that I eventually wanted to write a story inspired by how amazing his parents were and the culture they shared with me, but I wanted it to be fresh and different. So, I explored Polish history and myths and fairytales and discovered there was a mermaid. All. Over. Warsaw.


Are you serious right now? I was totally writing a book about mermaids. No ifs and or buts. I just had to figure out the plot. So, I did.

But that’s how A Spell For Trouble Came to be. And that’s how I finally became a published author. From Nancey Drew to S.E. Hinton to Bella Roma, I’ve finally reached my goal of becoming a published author. And it started with When In Rome by Gemma Townley. Not the saying, but the book.

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