By Harmony Verna Kensington Publishing Corp. 2016 In February I happened to be in Fremantle, Western Australia, visiting relatives. Browsing the internet, something stopped my fingers on the keyboard. A debut novel was about to hit the bookshelves, and its title was Daughter of Australia. Naturally that got my attention. But there was more. The novel begins in a remote township of Western Australia – Leonora. I could not believe it. My father spent his teenage years in Leonora and its sister township, the gold-mining hamlet of Gwalia. Virtually unknown outside Western Australia, this tiny town has a surprising connection to the United States. President Herbert Hoover made his name in mining there when, as a young geologist, he purchased the Sons of Gwalia mine for his employers in 1897. It became one of the richest mines in Australian history. Hoover’s name lingers in the “White House Hotel” in nearby Leonora, and the house Hoover built for his bride is now a bed and breakfast. The 31st president does not feature in this work of fiction. But the harsh life of the miners, contrasted with the wealth of the owners, does. Harmony Verna, an American who has never visited Australia, has managed to capture aspects of the desert landscape and its plants and animals. Her characters are complex and vivid. Billed as a worthy successor to Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Daughter of Australia tells the story of an abandoned little Australian girl who, since no one knows who she is, takes the name Leonora after the tiny speck on the map where she was found. She is adopted by a wealthy American couple, marries unhappily, and returns with her husband to the land of her birth. Drama, based very loosely on historical events, follows in this fast- paced story. Set a hundred years ago, the story fleshes out contemporary concerns of immigrants vs. nativism, capitalism vs. workers’ rights, poverty vs. wealth, racism and misogyny. At its core, though, is a love story. This is a first novel for Harmony Verna. I wrote to her after I started to read the book, and we are now happily corresponding. I am so glad to have made Harmony’s acquaintance. I invite you to read her book, and to visit her website, www.harmonyverna.com to sample more of her writings.
This week’s blog post isn’t about a book. It’s about the amazing power of books and the awesome energy of the Romance Writers of America. I spent the past few days at the Desert Dreams Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The biennial conference of the Desert Rose RWA is a small one, and a good place to meet literary agents. It was a productive conference for me. At the Friday night dinner, I looked around and said to my companion,” Isn’t it amazing, each one of these women had a secret as a child – we liked to read.” Yes, we were the kids who loved the library, who snuck away to our rooms when other kids played, who read on the swings, who read and read and read, and when we got tired of that, we scribbled journals and diaries. All those women became writers. In Phoenix this weekend we were lawyers and college professors, salespeople and computer programmers, farmers and jewelers, teachers and librarians and psychics, there were tattooed women, women with big hair, and some with very little hair, women wearing cowboy boots and women in high fashion, women of different ethnicities and faiths. One woman had a service dog and a blind writer crocheted a baby blanket as she waited to see an agent. The best-selling mystery author J.A. Jance told her life story on Friday night, then sang Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” in a haunting alto, and the pathos of the song made me want to cry. Kris Tualla, the president of Desert Rose RWA, was teary when she thanked Judy Jance and said that song spoke to the audience. “Because,” she said, “writers often feel like outsiders.” Authors are readers first and foremost, who were captured young by the magic of words, which, simply rearranged on a page, can take a person into an imaginary world. Not everyone understands the need for fiction. But fiction is just human experience transmuted into hypothetical situations and characters. Only writers understand the labor and love that goes into creating a book. Each of the writers present this weekend in Phoenix loved the worlds she’d created, and the agents who came from New York to find the next great author love those imaginary worlds also. Romance writing is sometimes mocked in the literary universe. Nevertheless, romance writing and its sister, women’s fiction, is a skill that must be learned and practiced. RWA chapters provide a place where writers can take lessons on craft and keep up with publishing trends. RWA provides learning by doing opportunities for people who can’t afford to take an MFA degree. Fundamentally, however, RWA understands the writer’s need for community, for validation for the lonely hours spent at the keyboard. Writing’s a competitive business, but one thing was clear to me this weekend. It’s a big tent, and there will always be room for new writers and new books. Here, everyone who believes in the power of words is welcome. Thank you, RWA.