The Cornucopia of Luuuuurve: A Guest Post by Amy Jo Cousins

Ruthie here — just a quick introduction to Amy Jo Cousins, a Friend of Wonk. We asked AJ to write this guest post for us after she shared an earlier version of these reflections with a number of the Wonksters. I’m delighted to be able to get her thoughts into the wider world, because I think what she has to say here about community and being a romance writer in the digital age is both important and interesting.

Take it away, AJ!


A while back, Cara interviewed the Wonkomancers about scarcity in Romancelandia, right around the time I had a long weekend writing retreat with a group of romance authors. Between that post, that weekend, and how Thanksgiving sort of rocked my world this year, I’ve been thinking about gratitude and plenty, about generosity and community.

When my first two books were published, almost a decade ago now, it was the most alone thing I had ever done. I knew exactly no one who had written a book. Although my family and friends were thrilled for me and supportive (bought me red boots and threw me surprise parties and let me dance in the open sun roof of the limo zooming down Lake Shore Drive), they had no advice or information about the process.

It wasn’t yet RT. I know this because I still have the two copies I bought at a B.Dalton Bookseller.

It wasn’t yet RT. I know this because I still have the two copies I bought at a B.Dalton Bookseller.

I talked to my editor a handful of times on the phone and I went to one regional conference, where I met her in person and we had about ten minutes of conversation. At that conference, I talked to a lot of very nice people, but didn’t make any connections that lasted beyond an email or two. That was mostly my fault, I think. I assumed that any published author would see my reaching out to them as an imposition on their time. The unpublished authors were even shyer than I was.

When my books came out, they were reviewed in Romantic Times Magazine, but that was pretty much it.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books started later that year. None of the dozens of book review websites existed. Goodreads didn’t exist, which is hard to imagine. I cobbled together a shitty website using HTML for Dummies and, wonder of wonders, four or five people found it and emailed me. I threw a party for each book that was mostly an excuse for my friends and family to get a drink & my romance novel for free if they donated a children’s book to the elementary school on Chicago’s West Side where I volunteered. I didn’t see any sales numbers until I got my royalty statements the following year. Amazon existed, but no one I knew bought books there. One of my brother’s friends posted a goofy review about how my book set his pants on fire.

AYS Amazon review

disco ballThe entire publication process felt like I tied parachutes made of Kleenex to my books and dropped them off a cliff into a bank of clouds that swallowed them whole. I hoped they landed okay. It was awesome and awe-inducing. It was the thing I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl sitting at a tv tray table in a corner of our damp basement (because the clatter of my used electric typewriter at midnight kept everyone awake.) I was giddy with excitement. I was also crushingly, heart-breakingly alone. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing most of the time (scratch that…ALL of the time), pretty sure that I was always two seconds and a coin toss away from making the mistake that would have Harlequin writing me off as Too Stupid To Live. If I could have wished for anything at all, it would have been to have one single person with whom I could share all of those emotions that were flashing out of me like I was a disco ball.

Any time a friend or co-worker mentioned wanting to write a book some day, I went into overdrive. “Have you read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones? Want to do NaNoWriMo with me? We can meet at coffee shops and write together! Please, please, please write a book!” I was desperate to know people who weren’t just writing in journals and thinking about a book (as I had done for the first thirty years of my life…hush, I was too thinking about being a writer from the moment they pulled me out with the forceps and smacked my butt), but were actively engaged in this magical and perplexing publishing thing.

So *clears throat* when I say that these past six months have been just the teensiest bit like someone took every birthday / first star in the evening sky / penny in the fountain wish I ever made and somehow managed to make them come true, I am maybe approaching a description of how overwhelmingly different my experience has been this time around.

From the brand new Twitter friend who I’d met once IRL before she took me under her wing at RWA and introduced me to everyone she knew, including authors around whom I was twitchy and mute with hero worship (I’m getting over this, I swear), to the members of a Chicago M/M Romance reading group who keep inviting me to meetings even though I can hardly ever make it…

From the writers “across the pond” with whom I talk about WWII research texts, to the group from Down Under who hosted a contest that introduced me to new editors…

From the #1k1hr sprinters on Twitter who keep me producing, to the Tumblrs who make me blush and inspire me…

You people have beta read my manuscripts and provided feedback both wise and geographic (“I think you mean either the Back Bay or North End of Boston. There is no Back End neighborhood…”). I boggle at the hours of time you gave up to do this. You have let me sit in on the equivalent of a Master Class in publishing, listening to stories of book deals gone wrong, cover art disasters, agents who tear down their authors and agents who build them up. You have mailed me cookies and made me Korean food and bought me drinks and turned my tweets into memes. You have shared your family’s Thanksgiving sweet potato recipe and emailed me your books before they were released when I was sad because our cat died. You have fixed my plots and punched up my synopses and found me the perfect cover art images. I am awed and overwhelmed and I never, ever feel alone in this journey any more.

*pause for eye-wiping and sniffing*

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Talk about a living, breathing repudiation of the idea that there is any scarcity at all in Romancelandia. You are wonderful people and I am so, so grateful to sit at your feet, metaphorically. Or dance on them, sadly less metaphorically.

Sometimes we don’t celebrate enough how generous and kind and helpful this community is. But I wanna share the love. Got any stories of awesomeness?


Amy Jo Cousins lives in Chicago, where she writes contemporary romance, tweets more than she ought, and sometimes runs way too far. She loves her boy and the Cubs, who taught her that being awesome doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with winning.

Find her on Twitter @_ajcousins.

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26 Responses to The Cornucopia of Luuuuurve: A Guest Post by Amy Jo Cousins

  1. Audra North says:

    First, I love you a lot. So there’s that.

    Stories of awesomeness in the romance community? I have too many.

    Ruthie actually understood that my awkward stalking of her was an attempt by a socially inept person to find a friend in the writing community. And because of her generous spirit, I have you all. She was the start to this life of mine, which is an entire self within a self, and y’all have filled it out and made it a force within me, and I love it and love you. All of you.

    And it’s not just the ladies and gentleman of Wonk. It’s people like Jan Meredith, Cecilia Tan, Liz Pelletier, and so many more that make the world of romance fun and intellectually stimulating and warm and welcoming.

    Yes. To all of it.

    • AJ Cousins says:

      “Intellectually stimulating”, YES. I didn’t focus enough on this part (a blog post for another day) but god DAMN, y’all are some smart cookies.

      I sold my first book ten years ago sort of by accident and at the time, I was still pretty snotty about romance as a genre. I read it, but I still thought of the literary novel I was planning as my “real work”, where I’d do all the heavy thinking. The romance book was…fluff.

      But the authors I talk to now are doing all of their “real work” here, the heavy thinking about gender and class and race and emotional honesty and sex positivity and the dig deep, tough work needed in successful relationships, which are pretty much the core of a life.

      It’s inspired me to try to up my game some. :)

      So, yes, another item on the I Am Thankful For… list: YOUR GIANT BRAINS.

      • Giant brains is no joke. Some of the most intelligent people I’ve met in my whole life are part of this community. I think people bitter about the romance community are sometimes jealous of 1) the community and 2) the smarts.

  2. Sarah Frantz says:

    I have the job that I adore because of the online romance community. I have lovers and best friends and people who have my back and people I can go to when I’m shouting achievements from the rooftops or sobbing my heart out and people to share dirty pictures with…and they’re all from the online romance community. I don’t even want to contemplate my life without y’all. *loves all over everyone*

  3. Amber Lin says:

    Thanks for this post, AJ. It’s lovely.

    I was just talking with my husband yesterday about some of the Boys’ Clubs environments in the tech industry. I could make a living and produce work but I never felt accepted. Even now, as an author, when I wander onto sites about other genres, or generic writing advice, I find a lot of posturing and tearing others down.

    But the romance writing community has always been accepting and supportive, from RWA to online forums to twitter, and most especially this haven at Wonkomance. I don’t really understand what makes it different or why exactly, I just know I don’t ever want it to stop.

  4. I’m pretty sure that Boston has a back end.

  5. And, you’re awesome.

  6. Twitter has changed my life in a similar way. When I began participating in Romancelandia three years ago, I didn’t know a single person in it. None of my friends read romance novels or wrote book reviews. A year in, I had made and met two friends, the lovely Blythe Barnhill whose daughter goes to school in my town, and the spectacular Jennifer Lohmann who sponsors a wonderful romance bookclub I was able to join. I loved the books I read and the words I wrote, but that part of my life was very solitary.

    Then two years ago, I joined Twitter. Since then, my life (I work out of my home) has become less lonely, far more amusing, and astonishingly supportive. Interacting with readers, writers, and Twi-friends has expanded my perspective on everything from Balzac to blowjobs. When I am feel blue, I find comfort. When I have a question, there are intelligent answers. When I am unsure about my perspective, others share theirs and I am wiser for their doing so.

    Perhaps the best example of this is Buffyclub. For the past year, I’ve been watching Buffy while tweeting about it with a group of brilliant, empathetic, hilarious Twifriends. My family knows that every Tuesday night, from 8 to 9, they are to only bother me for emergencies. No matter how tough the day I’ve had, Buffyclub always always always makes me feel better.

    The community I’ve found on Twitter rocks. Thank you.

  7. Emily Jane says:

    what everyone else has said. it’s so lovely that I can talk to thinking grownups in the middle of diaper changes and snotty noses…no baby sitters or loading up everyone in the car needed.

  8. Shelley Ann Clark says:

    Twitter and Wonkomance have done the same for me, too, including given me real life relationships and friends, and let me be part of an intellectual community.

    It all started for me with one friend I met via Twitter– Mary Ann Rivers– who flirted and pushed and prompted and was exactly the right writing partner at exactly the right time, and who encouraged me to say what I thought when I might not have. And then a whole bunch of others followed, very quickly: Ruthie, and Cara, and Serena, and Shari, and then a whole avalanche of amazing writers and librarians and reviewers and literary thinkers.

    And then A.J., who I met in person very early on, and liked immediately, all thanks to us both tweeting about a thunderclap at the same time and realizing we lived within a few miles of each other.

    Technology always has been maligned, but it also always has been a way to bring people together. Think of the printing press. Think of newspapers and letters to the editor, or reviews and refutations in the Victorian era. Think of the correspondence writers carried out with each other before email, before Twitter, before blogs. We just do it more immediately now. As Mary Ann said in her last post, there have always been movements, and those movements have always consisted of writers, of PEOPLE, who come together in some way. And holy crap, am I ever grateful to be included with all of y’all.

  9. Tamsen Parker says:

    I am so fortunate to have skipped that first alone stage and I have Cara McKenna to thank for that. She could have been like “Um, no,” when some weird girl emailed her asking to meet up to have coffee and chat about smut writing. Instead we got together and in addition to all the lovely advice and thoughts she passed on, she also said “And there’s this thing called Twitter…”

    Yes, there is. And between that and the NECRWA chapter, I haven’t felt alone in this for a second. There is always someone to pat your virtual shoulder when you’re having a craptacular day or write dirty cheers when you’re entering a contest. Someone will always take a quick look at a query or a chapter no matter how busy they are. Someone will always be around to make you laugh like crazy or tell you it’s okay to cry.

    I feel endlessly privileged to have worked myself into this wonderful community and to any lurkers out there, I say Come on in, the smutty waters are fine! You will get back a hundred times what you put in.

    PS~ So much <3 for you AJ!!! But, you knew that : )

    • AJ Cousins says:

      Back atcha. <3 And yes, the smutty waters, they are warm and soothing, like big bathtub. With a bunch of pervs sitting in it. ;)

  10. This is a beautiful ode, A.J. Thank you for putting to words what is probably a very common (and fortunate) experience.

    It’s the community that attracted me from the beginning. I’m still at its fringes, still in the infant stages of my romancelandia citizenship, just writing my first chapters of romance, but it’s so much more than people who chat on Twitter:

    every single person I’ve reached out to has been warm and kind. This is rare and wonderful.

    Because of the Boston area folks (above) chatting on Twitter about their own local chapter of RWA, I decided to join mine. My experience so far, at two meetings and a coffee date and some emails, has been the same: warm and kind and inspiring. I got unstuck from talking to other writers; even if they didn’t solve my specific problem, the process of talking about my concerns unstuck me.

    Also, I too am socially awkward, usually the outsider, usually the one in the corner observing and not participating, usually one who feels isolated even when she’s trying not to. The fact that I decided to go to a real life meeting with real live people is solely because the people I’ve meet online are so wonderful I wasn’t intimidated by the idea.

    I add my thanks to the growing list of thanks.

    • AJ Cousins says:

      “I got unstuck from talking to other writers; even if they didn’t solve my specific problem, the process of talking about my concerns unstuck me.” Yes to this! It’s not usually the specific suggestion that someone makes when I cry for help that saves the day, but rather the way what they say sparks a new idea in my old, tired brain. Or how describing a story to someone reignites my enthusiasm about it when the well is running low.

  11. Del says:

    You already know I love you, AJ! But for anyone who didn’t know, I love AJ, and not just because she gave me candy. Although I should add that she did, in fact, give me candy. When I got in her car. Then she drove me deep into the woods to a house full of perverts. AND IT WAS AWESOME. True story.

    Anyway, yes to all of this. My family doesn’t really get my attachment to my mostly-online community, and they don’t get when I try to explain that you can have real friends, the BEST friends, who you rarely see in person…and still get a world of support, encouragement, laughter and tears from them. You get love. I do, anyway. And I think y’all are the group upon whom I’m most inclined to express love and affection unreservedly. *hugs virtual Romancelandia*

    • AJ Cousins says:

      I have just had a total plot bunny about two people driving deep into the woods to find a house of perverts. They are friends, no, two people with mutual friends who don’t like each other, I think, but end up carpooling to what’s supposed to be some kind of wild weekend sex party, only their car breaks down and they end up stuck in it in the woods for the night. Hijinks, in lieu of the house o’ perverts free for all, ensue. There is repeated protesting that they don’t, in face, like each other, which is obviously malarkey by the time the sun comes up.

      And this is why I love you right back, Del, and all of the rest of Romancelandia. Ten seconds in your presence and I’m full of ideas and laughter and fun. <3 Y'all are the best.