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Reprinted by permission from Elegant Living Magazine. Summer 2008 issue. Published by The Herald-Mail Company.

Author Gail Barrett

She knew she was meant to be a writer

Written and photographed by HARRY NOGLE Romance novelist Gail Barrett recently participated in a Washington Romance Writers Pre-Retreat Mega-Signing at the Turn the Page Bookstore Café in Boonsboro.

The Catholic nuns who taught her in elementary school said everyone has a gift, a reason for being on earth, and romance writer Gail Barrett believes each person’s job is to discover what that purpose is. Barrett knew early that she was meant to be a writer.

She suspected she was meant to be a writer because she spent her childhood grinding sparkling rocks into fairy dust and trying to convince her friends it was real. She daydreamed her way through elementary school, spent high school reading philosophy and playing the bagpipes and then headed off to Spain during college to live the writer’s life.

“I went to Spain because I thought that’s what a writer should do,” Barrett said.

After four years in Madrid (part of it during the time Francisco Franco was still in power), Barrett straggled back home, broke, but fluent in Spanish.

“I never thought I would appreciate a washer and dryer so much,” she said.

She also discovered that she’d acquired a marketable skill. Instead of writing, she began teaching Spanish.

“I have taught Spanish at St. Maria Goretti and also at the Hagerstown Community College,” she said.

She married a Coast Guard officer and followed him around the country as he rescued ships and saved lives.

“I taught third grade in the Bahamas, one of our stations,” she said. “I’ve also taught seventh and eighth grade.”

Gail BarrettBarrett and her husband raised two sons. She earned a master’s degree and continued teaching.

But the desire to write was her dream, and one day she made a decision to stop fantasizing about writing and actually do it.

“We returned from the Bahamas and lived in Virginia, and I stayed home to write,” Barrett said.

She began her first book and discovered that writing a salable novel was much harder than she’d dreamed. Fortunately, she inherited a healthy dose of Irish stubbornness, a strong Midwestern work ethic and a love of challenges that helped her persevere.

Barrett wrote six full books before her first book, the romance novel “Where He Belongs,” was published.

“A romance novel is about emotions and love interests,” Barrett said. “But it is also about flawed characters who resist love and are changed.”

According to the Romance Writers of America, the main plot of a romance novel must revolve around the two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Furthermore, a romance novel must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

“Sex is part of a romance novel,” Barrett said. “But sex exists as a ‘sexual tension’ and is not on always described on the page.”

One of the earliest romance novels was Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded,” which was revolutionary because it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist.

In the next century, Jane Austen expanded the genre, and her “Pride and Prejudice” is often considered the epitome of the genre.

A decade later, the British company Mills and Boon began releasing the first category romance novels. Their books were resold in North America by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., which began direct marketing to readers and allowing mass-market merchandisers to carry the books.

The modern romance genre was born in 1972 with Avon’s publication of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “The Flame and the Flower,” the first single-title romance novel to be published as an original paperback.

Barrett says that she writes “category romance novels,” stories that focus on two characters. “This is how Nora (Roberts) got started,” she said.

The writing process for authors tends to be very individual, Barrett said, but she begins her writing day at about 7 a.m. and writes six hours a day.

“I’m a morning person,” she said. “I do my best thinking when I’m driving and listening to Spanish bagpipe music.” Barrett says that her stories come from her imagination, not from real-life situations.

“My stories generate from the setting,” she said.

Not surprisingly, “Heart of a Thief ” is set in Spain, where Barrett lived for four years and visited to prepare research for the book.

“I usually create a rough outline,” she said, “but sometimes I’ve prepared extensive outlines.” “I sort of let go with ‘Where He Belongs,’ but usually I like to have control over things,” she said.

“Having one character in a Romance novel married does not make a sympathetic character,” she said, “Unless the spouse is abusive or tyrannical.” The characters in romance novel tend to be, for the most part, young.

Barrett does a great deal of research for her books.

“I was two years researching smoke jumpers and even went to Montana to do on-site research for my book “Facing the Fire,” Barrett said. “I got a lot of positive feedback appreciating my desire to get the facts right.”

She went to Peru researching her second book.

“For ‘Heart of a Thief’ I did research on gypsies,” she said. “The idea in that book is so big I decided to turn it into a trilogy.” “For some research I have been able to utilize You Tube,” she said. “But nothing replaces speaking with experts.” Gail Barrett recently participated in a Washington Romance Writers Pre-Retreat Mega-Signing at the Turn the Page Bookstore Café in Boonsboro. Among the book signers was romance writer “superstar” Nora Roberts.

Readers may contact Gail Barrett at her Web site,