Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Feature on Contemporary and Christian Romance Writer ARLENE JAMES

Christal Cooper 2,131 Words article 3,210 including excerpt

The Three Loves of Romance Writer
Arlene James

POB 5582, Bella Vista, AR 72714

         This past April, thirty-eight years ago, romance writer Arlene James, 62, married her second husband James.  It was a third love story for Arlene, who had lost her first husband, leaving her widowed with a baby boy.

         James’s first love story began when she was just a little girl, living on a ranch in Oklahoma.    
         “I was born in Duncan, but went to school in Comanche, growing up on that ranch outside of Comanche.”
It was here that her paternal and maternal parents told her about Jesus, and showed her love and compassion that was missing from her home life.
         “I was very close to my grandparents, especially my maternal grandparents.  My mother was not an emotionally stable person, and her parents tried very hard to “make up the difference,” so to speak.  Honestly, I don’t know that I’d have survived my childhood without my grandparents.”
         She attended the local Baptist church along with her aunts, uncles, and cousins where her mother played the piano and her father led the music.  Her maternal grandfather (also one of the church’s deacons) helped build the church with his own hands. 
         “I learned to read at the church long before I attended school, starting with simple memory verses.”
         Her fondest memories are of Jesus depicted in flannel story pictures that her Aunt Beth used to illustrate Bible stories.
         “I remember especially the depiction of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and how comforting it was to think of myself as that little lamb in His arms.”

         Arlene experienced another trauma when she became ill with rheumatic fever and had to spend months in the hospital.  She was released from the hospital at the age of nine, but was not allowed to participate in much physical activity, though her parents allowed her to attend Vacation Bible School that summer, when her love story with Jesus was confirmed.  

“My grandmother, mother, and two aunts were teaching Vacation Bible School in a mission for itinerant farm workers operated by my grandfather’s best friend.  Most of the children were Mexican.  I recall that few of those children even had shoes, but when Brother Campbell sat down to talk to us all about our need for Christ, I realized that I was as needy as they were.  My grandmother prayed with me.  I still feel that well of peace.”
It wasn’t until high school that she was encouraged to write by her junior high school English teacher Berniece Johnston.

 “She would assign a theme every Monday, rough draft to be turned in on Wednesday.  We’d receive the marked up rough draft on Thursday and were expected to turn in a final draft on Friday.   We’d get our grades for that on Monday, along with a new assignment.  She soon began giving me a second assignment.  I was appalled that she would require it of me.  I’d get a marked up draft returned to me on Wednesday but never a grade on Monday.  Then one day she handed me a check.  I think it was for $5.12.  She’d been submitting my stories to contests and children’s magazines.  Before long, I’d won several contests and accumulated about $30.  They made a big deal of it at the awards ceremony at the end of the year.  I remember how proud my Dad and grandparents were.  Everyone assumed from that point forward that I would write for a living one day, myself included.”               
She married her high school sweetheart one year after graduating from high school; only to be widowed after four years of marriage and left alone with her 13-month old baby boy.   

         “I was so angry with God.  I could make not sense of any of it.  For the first time in my life, I could not go to church.  I simply could not go.  I tried;  I simply could not walk through those doors.  My beloved grandfather had died just six weeks before my husband.  I was utterly rudderless.  My grandmother would try to talk to me, but we’d both wind up weeping, so I’d leave.  Eventually my other grandparents came to see me.  They were the ones to say, “Until you stop being mad at God you aren’t going to have a life beyond widowhood.’” 
         During this time frame, James’s parents divorced after 24 years and she was going through serious health problems herself.  Finally, James came to a point where all she could do was fall on her knees and pray, confessing her anger toward God and asking for forgiveness and for His help.  She was finally able to go back to church, and, after, a short period of time she had a dream in October of 1975.

         “In my dream, a storm blew over the hickory tree in my yard.  It fell on the new swing set, and somehow I knew my young son, who was only three, had been on it, but before I could get to him, I saw a tall, slender man with dark, curly hair and a beard had rescued him.  A few days later (after I had the dream) I got up and found that the hickory tree had fallen onto the swing set during the night, while my son slept soundly in his bed.  A week or two after that, I was sitting in the kitchen at my friend Chlora’s house when the man in my dream walked in.  Literally.  It scared me silly.  I did my best to avoid him until my son’s third birthday in December, when he basically told me that we were supposed to get married.  And I agreed.  Tearfully.  We tell people that he asked me to marry him on our first date, but the truth is, we never dated at all.  God knew that I was not going that route; that He would have to act decisively to get me to the altar again.  So He did.  We freaked out everyone we knew, so we waited all of four months to marry and have been married 38 years now.”
James, in reality, shouldn’t have expected anything less since she’d been reading fairy tales and romances almost all of her life; and she had been writing short stories since she was six years old. 
It was not until 1982 her first book, City Girl, was published by Silhouette Books. 

The first novel that I wrote was the first book that I sold.  I do know how unusual that is.  By the time I finished the second book, I had an agent and he negotiated my first multiple-book contract and that’s how I’ve worked every since.” 
She has published over 80 romance novels thus far.  Her most autobiographical book is the novella Dreaming of a Family from A Mother’s Gift.
“I describe the dream that gave me my husband in detail in that novella.  It is, otherwise, completely fictional.”

James’s first inspirational romance, Proud Spirit, was published by Silhouette Inspirations in 1984.

Her first novel to be published by Love Inspired is The Perfect Wedding, which was actually a Silhouette Romance reprint, in 1998.         

“The editors had been editing out the spirituality; they just put it back in, edited a little bit the other way, and used it to help launch the line.  I was thrilled!” 

The one question that James gets asked the most is what the differences are between writing a secular romance and an inspiration romance.

“There really isn’t much difference because I am a Christian no matter what I do.  The difference is all on the editorial end.  When I write secular romance, all references to spiritual matters gets edited out, but I write them in because I can’t help it.  That’s how I think; that’s how I live.  It’s part of my universe and my reality.  When I write inspiration romance, things get edited out that befuddle me sometimes, anything that the editors think might offend anyone – which is absurd because we humans can dream up reasons to be offended that are in themselves offensive.  God created sex to be enjoyed in the proper context and sexual attraction for a reason, but apparently Christians (in some imaginary world) pretend that such things do not exist.  The most innocent terms take on evil connotations in ugly imaginations.  It becomes verboten to use terms such as “miracle,” “angel,” and “holy.”  We let the complainers, the most narrow and fault-finding, define us, and that’s sad.” 
With over 80 novels to her name, it is hard to pick a one-time favorite, but she does have one that she thinks of often the most, which is Mail-Order Brood.

“It’s an old Silhouette Romance that I drove out to Texas West of the Pecos to research with a girlfriend.  A gentleman named Bill Hargis helped me out and gave me the premise for the book when he mentioned that the local rancher’s association was going to advertise for a wife for a “good cowboy” ranching 13,000 acres at the end of 50 miles of dirt road by himself!”

Now that James has the Internet she does not have to travel to do research, and, instead, does it on her own laptop, but not for every book.
“The amount of research that goes into a book depends upon the premise of the book, the characters and the setting.  Some occupations, settings and circumstances require more research than others.   I used to spend hours in the library and interviewing experts.”
Though she’s written over 80 novels, there is one love story she has yet to write and that she dreams of writing someday – that of her maternal grandparents.
“Theirs was an unusual love story, and they truly did love each other.  I’m so glad I had that example because my parents did not have a good marriage.  I know my father loved my mother, but I’m not sure she was capable of returning his love.  I think later in life she was happy with my stepfather, but sadly the best years of her life were those three years after her cancer diagnoses.  I’ll always thank God for those years.  She died with much more grace than she had lived, but because she feared that I would write about the details of her life, I will not.  I would love to tell my grandparents’ story; however, though it is not contemporary.”  
James used to write from all over the world, but now that her husband is retired, the couple moved from Texas to the northwest corner of Arkansas to be closer to their oldest son and his family. 

They built their home out in the country into the side of a hill, making the front and sides level, but the back very steep.  Their closest neighbors are the deer and other wild animals that live in the woods.

Her office is on the back of the house, just off the dining area and kitchen, with large windows that overlook the forest and hill.  Her office furniture is all black, including the bookcases, worktable, desk, and filing cabinets.

She is not alone when she writes; - her 90-pound dog Silky stays by her side on the large arrowhead carpet on her office floor.

 When James begins writing a book it always begins and ends with the characters.
“My books tend to be character-driven and I really don’t find two characters to be alike.  Similar things can happen to many people, but each person experiences those events differently.  Personality, background, attitude, spiritual condition, education, relationships, circumstances all play into a character’s actions and reactions to a given set of stimuli.  That’s what makes every story different.”
James plots out every single scene, step by step by using a publication booklet with detailed character sheets, story calendars, research materials, story synopsis, editorial notes, and her own handwritten notes. 

“This helps me keep names, dates, automobiles, favorites and other details straight.  I don’t worry about writing repetitive things.
She writes five to six days per week, beginning at 8 a.m. and until 5 p.m., and works on three books at a time, each book at its own level of development:  the book she is actually writing; the plotting of another book; and the sorting through premises and characters for the third book.  

“That allows me to produce three books per year, while leaving time to prepare proposals, deal with revisions, edit and proofing.  For years I did four books and even more (as many as 7!) but my husband prefers I not do that now that he’s retired, and I find that it takes more energy for me to run after my grandchildren than it did for me to run after my children.”

*Below is an excerpt from The Bachelor Meets His Match by Arlene James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

“No, no, no.” Simone shook her head.
She was glad that they’d heeded the gate attendant’s advice to head clear across the park to the Big Daddy rollercoaster at the back. He’d promised them that the wait would be shortest if they started at the back of the 100-acre park and worked their way forward rather than the other way around. He’d warned that wait times per ride could exceed two hours otherwise. Because they’d been waiting in line when the gates opened, they were first in line now, and their party of fourteen––she suspected Morgan had shelled out the nearly two hundred bucks for the two extra tickets––comprised of eight males and five females, was raring to go, all but her and Rina, who had disappeared into a bathroom.
“Winded already?” Morgan asked, watching the others run ahead to get in line.
It had been a long walk, but she wasn’t going to admit to weakness already. “No, I just don’t care for fast rides.”
He cocked his head. “Really? I thought you were a skier.”
“Yes, but on the slopes, I’m in control.”
“Control freak, huh?”
Ouch. If she’d learned one thing during her illness, however, it was how little control she actually had in life. “No. That would be you.”
He lifted a shoulder, gave his head a shake. “Don’t see me sitting on the sidelines.”
She squelched a sigh, admitting, “I distrust large mechanical contraptions.”
“Huh. Never rode a ski lift then. Odd.”
“Of course, I’ve ridden ski lifts.”
“I guarantee you they’re far less safe than this thing is.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I can, actually. I’ve read the studies.”
“You are exasperating.”
“You are illogical,” he retorted. “You zip around town on a fragile little two-wheeler that any nearsighted granny or distracted teenager can easily cremate then worry about getting on one of the engineering wonders of the modern world. Come on. I’ll hold your hand.”
“Bully,” she grumbled, casually letting her hand fall at her side as she trudged to the entry.
“Coward,” he replied cheerfully, catching her palm against his as he matched his stride to hers. “You’ll like it.”
She didn’t look at him, pretending displeasure as he tugged her up the ramp to the covered platform, where they negotiated a maze of roped off lines to finally file into narrow spaces between numbered pipes at the edge of the rails. Vaguely aware of the hissing and clashing of hydraulics and metal parts, she really saw and felt nothing that wasn’t centered on the hand that he clutched in his, until suddenly a long line of sleek, linked cars painted a fiery red shot past them and came to a screeching, jarring halt.
With a whoosh of steam and the clank of metal, a padded bar popped up, revealing two molded seats below. They looked like something out of a space capsule, without nearly enough capsule to protect them. Simone instinctively pulled back.
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Honey, you’re holding up the line,” Morgan said close to her ear. Then he simply picked her up and stepped down into the car with her. She didn’t even have time to grab hold of his neck before he deposited her in the outer seat and dropped down next to her. Sputtering, she gaped at him, but he just pulled down his three-point harness and snapped it closed, saying,
“Buckle up, sweetheart. We’re about to ride.”
Before she could tell him what he could do with his ride, buckles and all, an attendant swept by and clicked her harness into place. Then the padded bar came down over her head, and the same attendant used his foot to lock it tightly into place against her thighs. The car lurched and slowly rolled forward, gradually picking up speed as it came toward a first precipitate drop.
Simone cut her eyes at Morgan and promised, “I am going to get you for this.”
He clasped her hand in his, grinned and said, “Okay,” just as the bottom dropped out from under them.
She screamed like a banshee and couldn’t seem to stop. He laughed, loud and long and heartily, and not once did he let go of her hand.
After what seemed an eternity, or perhaps three minutes, of rolls and flips and mind-boggling drops and curves, they arrived right back where they’d started. The car came to a screeching, jarring halt, and she had just enough time to catch her breath before the padded bar whooshed up. Morgan released his belt and let go of her hand in order to release hers. They had to exit on her side, so she started to push herself up, but then she felt Morgan’s hands under her arms, lifting her. The others of their party, in cars ahead of them, had already exited, laughing, down the covered ramp to their right.
“My legs are like jelly,” she complained, stepping up onto the platform.
Laughing happily, he hopped up beside her. “I’ll carry you then.” He swept her off her feet and spun with her before heading down the ramp.
She set her arms about his neck, smiling. He seemed so open and happy, his cinnamon eyes completely unguarded today.
“You make it awfully difficult to stay angry with you, but you can’t always carry me.”
“Yes, I can,” he refuted gaily, but reality waited at the bottom of the ramp, and it smacked her hard in the chest. It wouldn’t do for the other graduate students to see them like this. She’d already read the policy in her student handbook and heard it giggled about by the girls on campus.
“What a shame the professors can’t date students.”
“If ever you were going to break the rules, that not fooling around with the professors thing would be it, wouldn’t it?”
“A professor would have to really be in love with you to risk his job for you.”
“No,” she said softly, dropping her gaze, “you can’t.”
He stopped and, a heartbeat later, let her down.
“You’re right,” he said, the professor again. “Good call.”
Nodding, she adjusted the hem of the little mint green T-shirt that she wore over lightweight olive cargo pants and her most comfortable athletic shoes. Then she turned and calmly walked down the ramp and out into sunshine that seemed to have lost some of its luster.

Photo Description And Copyright Information 

Photo 1a
Arlene James. 
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 1b
Arlene and husband James on their wedding day
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 2
The Painting The Good Shepherd
Attributed to Bernhard Plockhorst
Public Domain

Photo 3a
Arlene James at the age of 9
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 3b
Jacket cover of No Easy Conquest
July of 1983

Photo 3c
Arlene James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 3d
Arlene James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 4
Jacket cover of City Girl

Photo 5
Jacket cover of Dreaming of a Family from A Mother’s Gift

Photo 6
Jacket cover of Proud Spirit

Photo 7
Jacket cover of The Perfect Wedding by Silhouette Romance

Photo 8a
Jacket cover of The Perfect Wedding by Silhouette Inspirations

Photo 8b
Arlene James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 9
Jacket cover of Mail-Order Bride

Photo 10
Jacket cover of Mail-Order Bride

Photo 11
Arlene’s husband James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 12
Outside Arlene’s home
Attributed to Joyce Lester Powell
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 13
Arlene’s office
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 14
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 15
View from Arlene’s office
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 16
Arlene James
Copyright granted by Arlene James

Photo 17
Jacket cover of Bachelor Meets His Match

1 comment:

  1. I've read your books for years. It's so great to hear your story. Thanks for sharing.