‘A labor of love’: Yakima romance authors share wisdom ahead of book signing

YAKIMA, Wash. — More than a dozen romance authors from the Pacific Northwest are stopping by Inkling’s Bookshop in Yakima this weekend to sign books, celebrate the genre and receive recognition for their hard work.

Although romance novels are a $1.44 billion industry — the most profitable of any book genre — they haven’t always received respect from  the writing community. Bookstore Romance Day was created four years ago as part of an effort to change that.

“[It’s] a way to promote romance and to help strengthen the bond between indie bookstores and romance,” Inkling’s event manager Anne Zastrow said. “That bond is a little bit strained because of years of people just thinking the worst of romance.”

However, Zastrow said romance has grown a lot as a genre over the years. During the pandemic, sales skyrocketed because people were craving a happy ending amid all the uncertainty.

“That’s what I like about romance, because it doesn’t matter how difficult the book is to read,” Zastrow said. “You know the ending is going to be a happy, so I know it’s a fantasy because you don’t get that in real life.”

KAPP-KVEW spoke to three of the authors who will be featured during the weekend’s event: Krista Jensen, Amanda Valdez and Dalyn Weller about their journey from writing romance stories to becoming published authors.

Krista Jensen

Krista Jensen: “I love writing about triumph.” 

Yakima-based writer Krista Jensen started her real-life journey to becoming an author by joining a writing group who supported her  and encouraged her to write a novel.

“I was really starting to explore Jane Austen and I wrote a modern version of Persuasion,” Jensen said. “I called it ‘The Orchard’ and it takes place in Montana.”

She submitted her book to Covenant Communications and waited nine months before she got a reply agreeing to publish “The Orchard.” In the meantime, Jensen had so much fun writing the first book that she wrote three more.

Jensen has now published a half-dozen novellas and six full-length novels, including her latest book, “Hearts of Briarwall,” which was released Aug. 2.

“It’s an Edwardian historical romance, but it’s actually a rom-com,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the story is set in 1906 and follows four best friends who create a literary club and name themselves the Wendy League after the play “Peter Pan,” which came out two years before. 

“And their motto is seize the opportunity to fly,” Jensen said. “And like Wendy at the nursery windows, we seize the opportunity to fly and I love that. I don’t know where it came from, but I love it.”

Jensen said she loves writing stories about triumph, about people who go through hard times and figure out how to get through them together, like in her book “Miracle Creek Christmas.”

However, there was a time when Jensen didn’t know if she’d be able to finish that book and give her characters a happy ending because she was going through her own hard times.

“The years 2016 and 2017 were particularly difficult,” Jensen said. “I underwent a series of four surgeries — kind of leapfrog — with a back surgery, a shoulder surgery, a back surgery and then another sort of shoulder surgery.”

Her family and extended family were also struggling and Jensen found herself in pain, trying to recover but also unable to pick up “Miracle Creek Christmas” to give her characters obstacles to overcome, when she was already trying to overcome her own.

“And I just really thought maybe I can’t do this anymore,” Jensen said. “The physical pain, the emotional pain of the circumstances was so difficult, I couldn’t even disappear into my own imagination to write a story.”

But with physical therapy, Jensen said the pain receded, she started gaining her strength back and walking again and she was able to finish her story.

“And that was such a relief because I really thought that maybe I was done,” Jensen said. 

Jensen said her advice for writers who come up against periods of physical or emotional pain and feel like giving up is to be patient, give yourself some rest and keep a journal.

Amanda Valdez

Amanda Valdez: “We’re deserving of the good stories, too.”

Yakima-based author Amanda Valdez started writing romance novels under the name A.E. Valdez early on in the pandemic. She published her first book “All I’ve Wanted, All I’ve Needed” a little over a year ago at the age of 32.

“It’s a romance novel about a woman who breaks up with her boyfriend, who seems like this amazing guy, but he’s not,” Valdez said. “And so she decides to go on this self-discovery journey.”

Valdez said on that journey to fall in love with herself, the character finds someone who turns into her best friend and becomes the love of her life.

“I think it was like, a book to myself things that I wish I would have known at my character’s age,” Valdez said. “If you’re not in love with yourself, you can’t really love anyone else or expect anyone to love you.”

Valdez said the most difficult part was all the details that came with trying to independently publish her books, like marketing and interviews. She said the writing itself was the best part.

“I have loved writing African American romance because we deserve the good stories too,” Valdez said. “And we’re deserving of those happy moments and just straight-up, love.”

During the process, Valdez said she had some moments of self-doubt and questioned how readers would respond to her book: What if nobody reads this? What if nobody likes my work?

But even though she had those fears and doubts, she did it anyway. Valdez has published three books in the last year, including “Colliding with Fate”, “All I’ve Wanted, All I’ve Needed” and its sequel, “The Beginning of Forever.”

“Nobody can read a book that you haven’t written,” Valdez said. “So I would say, keep writing and release it because there is always somebody out there who will enjoy your work.”

Dalyn Weller

Dalyn Weller: “There is no age limit.”

For small-town romance author Dalyn Weller, it was her love of her ranch in rural Yakima that inspired her latest series, featuring cowboys and a picturesque setting that looks a lot like home.

“It’s called Apple Valley Ranchers, but Apple Valley is really Yakima,” Weller said. “My heart is in the country.”

Weller said she likes to put a little of herself and her family into her characters; Rowdy Rosie has the sass of Weller’s grandma and her own love of big earrings. That led to one of her favorite quotes, “What you need is more faith and bigger earrings.”

She’s written about eight or nine books, but only four have been published so far. Weller said with a ranch to help run and kids to look after, she didn’t get a chance to really start following her dreams until recently.

“I homeschooled for 20 years and I just thought I’m finally going to write my books,” Weller said. “So I sold three goats and bought a laptop and I decided to start study how to write well.

Weller said the first year, all she did was study and try to learn how to write well; the second year, she hit a learning curve with software. Finally, she was able to publish her first book, a devotional called “Rooted & Blooming” when she was 49.

“There is no age limit; there are women that I personally know that are starting writing romances in their 80s,” Weller said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, disabilities, it doesn’t matter; it opens up a whole world.”

Weller said one piece of advice she had for writers who want to get their books published is not to go into the process thinking of it as something that will provide a livable wage.

“Not very many people are getting rich doing this; it really is a labor of love,” Weller said. “But the community is worth it, the writing is worth it. I’m a happier person when I write.”

Weller said she also recommends continuing to learn new things and get support to keep you going by finding a community of writers you can trust to help you through the process.  She said the only way to fail is to quit writing.

“If I fail 10 times, I’m going to go for number 11. If I fail 100 times, I’m going for 101,” Weller said. “You just keep going because you can’t fail. Really, you just haven’t arrived yet at the place you want to be.”

This story has been updated to include additional information about each author.

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