With 40 published novels, Margaret Brownley is the queen of clean romance
“I failed eighth-grade English and was discouraged when the teacher told me to forget about being a writer,” says Margaret Brownley. Those are ironic words coming from the author of 40 published books.
When Margaret’s dream was crushed back then, she says she went on to other things: “School, work, marriage, babies . . . but the writing bug never left.”
Though she began writing her first novel at age 11, Margaret’s first published pieces were monthly articles about crafts for Family Circle magazine. “I wrote four books before one actually sold to Harlequin.” But now she’s found her niche in “clean” historical romances, which explains her branding, “Love and laughter in the Old West.”
The engaging Simi Valley grandmother has a delightful sense of humor, which has also become her trademark as a writer. “I wrote six books before an editor informed me that I had a knack for writing serious themes with humor.”
Her Western stories are set in the 1880s and ’90s, a time she likens to present day. Back then, the telegraph and phonograph were changing the world; now computers, the Internet and social media are turning things around.
For years, as a working mom of three, Margaret would rise at 4 a.m. daily to write, a routine she still follows as an empty-nester. “I work on a book five mornings a week and handle the business (side) of writing in the afternoons. Weekends are devoted to writing blogs, working on my newsletter, updating my website, social media and all the other stuff writers are expected to do these days.”
Luckily, she gets help from her husband, George, a retired Paramount Studios film editor. “He’s my assistant,” she adds with a smile. Like a storyline from one of her own romances, it was pretty well love at first sight when the couple met. “And then he walked in . . . .” George proposed not long after.
Although she uses a computer, Margaret admits she still enjoys putting words on paper. “Treasure the pencil,” she says on her website. “It can be used upside down, under water and at zero gravity. Try that with an iPad.”
But there’s nothing old-fashioned about the way Margaret can write and get books published. She says staying in shape helps her keep up the pace. She uses a Monet-purple Gaiam balance ball as an office chair, which is “good for strengthening the core,” she says. After a couple of hours of writing, she hops on a treadmill for an hour. “That helps me go over what I’ve written and decide where to go from there.”
As for getting motivated in the first place, “All I need is a cup of coffee and a looming deadline,” she says.
Margaret has a penchant for brand-new notebooks so she begins each novel scribbling thoughts into one. And she knows when she’s got the characters right when she can hear their voices in her head—speaking in a Western drawl.
She says she never knows when inspiration will hit.
“Fortunately, most people don’t recognize themselves in print so I can get away with writing about my quirky friends.”
She also reads everything. “I’m embarrassed to say I even read the National Enquirer and have found some real gems tucked in between the fluff.” She mentions one about an Avon lady who risked her life to sell face paint to Amazon natives, a story Margaret says was too good to pass up.
“I did some research and discovered that the first Avon lady was (actually) a man who sold his products to sporting ladies.” That was her inspiration for “A Touch of Lace,” originally published by Penguin in 1996.
“Calico Spy,” book three in her Undercover Ladies series published by Shiloh Run Press and released this month, was inspired by a visit to the Harvey House in Barstow.
In the late 19th century, Fred Harvey created the first restaurant chain in the U.S. “He helped civilize the Old West with his innovative restaurants,” says Margaret. “He also did a tremendous service to women by providing legitimate employment during a time when few opportunities existed.” The Harvey Girls, his carefully trained, well-groomed waitresses, set a new standard for serving meals promptly and with precision.
“A Match Made in Texas,” Margaret’s first book in yet another series, will be released in the fall by Sourcebooks.
The prolific writer has worked hard to get where she is today. Even though one of her books was rejected 17 times, she says, “When it finally sold, it sold big and helped to establish a whole new line for a major publisher. Had it not been rejected I would have missed out on that amazing opportunity.”
But it’s hard to advise aspiring writers, she says, because “it’s a different publishing climate today . . . . Now everyone can self-publish a book without having to go through years of rejection.”
Her advice to wanna-be writers who wanna-be published? “If you’re going the traditional route, never give up. If you plan on self-publishing, get thee to a good editor.”
Written by ELA LINDSAY Photo by RICHARD GILLARD