I interviewed Noelle Adams (in her Claire Kent persona) in one of my first-ever Wonkomance posts. At the time, I’d never read any of her books, but I read Escorted for the purposes of the interview and couldn’t put it down.
Since then, I have devoured and adored many more of Noelle/Claire’s books. I love her voice, which is lovely and unpretentious and stark; the way her books submerge me emotionally; and the fact that she writes sex the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.
I remembered that Noelle had mentioned to me that she never tried to write in any particular way, that any “wonkiness” she exhibited was unintentional, and I was curious to hear more about whether she’d ever tried to be less wonky and what that experience was like for her. Here is her guest post in reply:
The first romance I submitted to a publisher was a Regency. I was sixteen years old.
I’d been reading Regency romances for a couple of years, since my mother was a fan. She’d devour them and pass on to me the ones she thought wouldn’t sully my mind. When she wasn’t around, I’d dig through the big laundry basket she collected them in and find the sexier ones to read too.
I’d been writing novels since I was twelve, but I decided I was born to write a Regency romance. This was before the internet was available for copious research on publishers and submission requirements, but I knew, even back then, that I would have to follow the formula that publishers wanted. So that’s what I wrote. Feisty, virginal heroine. Dashing, slightly jaded hero. A tangle of conflict intensified by the social restrictions. Some sort of minor adventure plot to move things along. I worked all of it in. I spent a couple of summer months completing it, and then I went to the library to consult the literary market guides to find appropriate publishers to submit to.
I was sure I’d followed the formula perfectly. I was sure it would be published.
I never heard anything back—not even a form rejection letter. I reread the book recently, and it’s really not as bad as I imagined. Clearly, it was written by a sixteen-year-old, and no one but me should ever read it. But what I noticed was, even as a teenager, I couldn’t get the formula right. I had all the items on the checklist ticked off, but they didn’t come together the way they were supposed to. For instance, I had a minor misunderstanding in the first chapter, and instead of letting it grow and fester and intensify the main conflict, I made the couple have a conversation in the second chapter that completely resolved it. I know why I did it that way. It just felt like something two real people would do. But it made me realize that, from the beginning, I was writing books that were just slightly off.
My long history of failed attempts to get published only confirms this reality. My books are always just slightly off.
The first book I shopped that was actually good enough to be published was when I was twenty-one. I got an agent and had an editor really want the book, but it never got picked up because it was so unmarketable. I learned my lesson. Write for the market. So I wrote a book with the market in mind.
And another book. And another. In each one, I carefully followed what was popular and used the formulas publishers seemed to expect. I didn’t want to write a ground-breaking work of literature. I just wanted to get published. But, no matter how hard I tried to follow the rules, I couldn’t seem to do it.
I could get an agent. I could also get editors who really loved my writing and sometimes wanted to take on my books. But every attempt ended the same way. The book was “not the right fit for us.”
Just slightly off.
Eventually, I gave up and wrote books I wanted to write, assuming they’d never be published. So I ended up with a large number of completed, unpublished romances—some close to formula, some totally wonky.
I wrote Seducing the Enemy, trying desperately to follow a formula, as my last ditch effort to get published. But that book was rejected numerous times before it was finally picked up, and even then it took several complete overhauls and eighteen months before it was in a state to be published.
That was when I decided to self-publish. I’d thought about the possibility and dismissed it several times in the past because I never really wanted to do my own thing. I was always trying to be a fit. But it seemed clear that the only way I was ever going to find an audience for my slightly-off books was to publish them myself.
At first, I tried to follow the romance rules, since I wanted my books to sell. But, by the third one (One Night with her Bodyguard), I just gave it up. That story features a heroine with intense social anxiety and a hero with all kinds of insecurities, and it has a weird, rambling plot structure. But it sold better and had better reviews than the previous two. Maybe that was just because I was slowly finding an audience, but it encouraged me.
Then I put Escorted—a book I thought could never be a fit for any market or niche—on the free promotion days on Amazon, and people started to read it and like it. Even with the bald hero, the non-passionate sex scenes at the beginning, and the odd absence of secondary characters and world-building.
So I figured I might as well publish what I want, since I couldn’t get the formulas right anyway, and maybe there were people who wanted to read what I write. So I threw all the odd stuff out there—detailed, realistic pregnancy sex, the dying seventeen-year-old’s bucket-list marriage, the sweet hero who is so in love he has a problem with coming prematurely, the m/f romance that starts in the context of a threesome. Some of it worked with readers, and some of it didn’t. But one thing is clear.
There is no correlation between the popularity of my books and their level of weirdness.
I don’t really think I take a lot of risks in my books—not really. A Negotiated Marriage has sold the most of all my books, and it’s a billionaire marriage-of-convenience story. Nothing risky about that. It is slightly off, though. The conflict is very understated, and the powerful, CEO hero gets nervous before business meetings so he takes his shoes off to prepare.
Maybe the riskiest thing I’ve done is the Willow Park books, romances about genuinely devout Christians that are intended for the mainstream audience and include sex and language. I guess there’s something wonky about that. It’s certainly almost never done. But the books themselves are really quiet, so it seems to me that they’re just slightly off, like everything else I write.
I did an interview with Wonkomance a couple of years ago, after Escorted took off, and Serena asked me why I wrote wonky books. My answer then is what it is now. I never wanted to write wonky romance.
From the time I was sixteen, I was trying to follow all the rules and write in the established, marketable formulas. I just couldn’t do it.
A lot has changed since then, but my books are still just slightly off.
Noelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.
She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances.
You can find her at: