Simona Taylor: Romance for Grown-Ups

Cedriann Martin talks to author Roslyn Carrington about her nom-de-plume Simona Taylor, who writes steamy romance novels

–Roslyn Carrington. Photograph by Daren Johnson, www.depictionsbeyond.com

In Simona Taylor’s 2011 romance Intimate Exposure, Shani – a recent divorcée and single mother – falls for Elliot, a do-gooder and technology engineer. A series of selfless acts and his utterly ripped body (helpfully depicted on the book’s cover) reel Shani in. She winds up in a love-making session in her daughter’s honeybee-themed bedroom, and in a reluctant romance.

The conflict in this story doesn’t just come from falling fast. There’s also a deadbeat ex and an X-rated-photo scandal to be resolved. Along the way there are stops everywhere from the Mile High Club to sensuous Martinique.

Roslyn Carrington, who has also written three literary novels under her real name, doesn’t have an inferiority complex about Simona’s work.

“I don’t spend time showing how bright I am,” she says, sitting at her kitchen table. “I don’t have a problem appealing to a broader audience and using smaller words. I allow my humour to permeate my work. I like to have fun. I am not writing about post-colonialism. That’s extremely important – but women have issues. There are good men and bad men, and I think I should write about that as a valid part of our experience as well.”

This unlikely career had long been foreshadowed. As a child Carrington was asthmatic, uncoordinated, and an Enid Blyton addict. By eight she obsessively led a writing club that met in the yard of her tiny primary school in Morvant to swap stories about talking mushrooms and elves. By 11 or 12, she was devouring Mills and Boon romances. And in short order Carrington was writing her own accounts of delicious men on horseback staring down at damsels from dramatic cliffs.

“I couldn’t write the love scenes because I had no idea,” she chuckles. “There were no actual romances in my life at that time. None, none, none. I was overweight and lonely… the wallflower. But I had a very active fantasy life. There was a constant flow of stories in my head.”

Yet a writing career didn’t occur to her until a form two English teacher at St George’s College pitched the idea. It didn’t immediately fly. Her father was a science major who swore off fiction, and Carrington had understood that “language was not a profession”.

So after a liberal arts degree she settled into the eight-to-four life, but kept on writing love stories. For a few years during the 1990s she wrote a witty and eminently readable column in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper. The notion of a writing career began to crystallise. Carrington studied for a while with the late respected Trinidadian writer and columnist Wayne Brown (his most important lesson: finish the novel before you edit). Then she landed a fellowship at the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she finished her first novel. Since then she’s found everything online, from critique partners to an agent.

But getting published, she admits, is a rat race. “And it gets harder as the economy gets tighter. I was very lucky. I wrote two novels and naively went to some writing site and said I was looking for an agent. This person on the brink of opening her agency specialising in romance and inspirational took me on as her third client. We liked each other and were almost exactly the same age. I signed the contract because she had a cat she loved. I trust people who like cats. That is literally why I signed,” Carrington says with a straight face.

She got onto the first cycle of black romance novels in the United States. She remembers running her fingers against a copy of her first book. Twelve years on, getting published is still a thrill.

Meanwhile, she’s learned how to operate in a cynical and sometimes surprising industry. She was shocked to discover that black authors were expected to write about black characters for black readers. As the global economic crisis took hold, lots of writers got axed. But it turned out that women were buying romance novels more than ever. Most of them, she discovered, were very much like her: educated professionals.

“That is how we unwind as working women. Adult women read good romance books.” (Her personal taste is murder mysteries.)

She’s also learned to balance her own vision with her editors’ sense of what sells. Apparently romance readers enjoy multi-billionaires with their own islands. But Carrington had never been into “arrogant millionaire bastards slapping women, and all that rubbish”.

“I can’t respect a man who has a private jet. I think it is selfish to have that kind of carbon footprint. For you to become a billionaire, you must have stepped on somebody at some point. I could never write about that,” she says. “My guys are always nice.” So dedicated is she to this premise that she always thinks up men who would make good husbands and fathers, and she sometimes fantasises about them herself.

She’s got an intricate moral code for her women as well. Sleeping with a guy early in the relationship? Not an issue. Stealing another woman’s husband? Unconscionable.

“I think adultery is unacceptable. I see myself as a very liberal person, but my definition of feminism is women supporting each other and having each other’s back. I never liked the kind of girl who used her sexuality as a weapon against other women. I would never write a story about taking another woman’s man. I believe that in my personal life and in my writing. Maybe I should expand my boundaries.” She
considers for a moment. “But I cannot accept a character like that as my heroine.”

Four years ago, Carrington, now a wife and the mother of two, left her public-relations gig to write full-time. Her advice to would-be authors? Do it yourself.

“New technology has made publishing electronically more feasible than being published by a publishing house. Once you are convinced of the quality of your work, you can make it a reality. Many good writers are not being published because people won’t take a chance on them.

“I see it as an uprising. The revolution is going to happen. They [publishers] have a stranglehold because they have the upper hand and we have to go begging. But in a few years that industry is either going to have to adapt or die.”

She glances to the room where her children, wrapped in blankets, are watching TV.

“They,” she says with a wave, “won’t be reading paper books in a few years.” And to underline the point she is in the process of publishing an e-collection of West Indian-themed short stories called Sex and Obeah, for Kindle and Nook.

You can find Roslyn Carrington and Simona Taylor on Facebook or on her website: www.scribble-scribble.com

Intimate Exposure Simona Taylor
(Harlequin Kimani, ISBN: 978-0-373-86214-6, 224pp)