JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Like many working Johns Creek moms, Tracy Solheim starts each workday by kissing her husband goodbye, packing her kids off to school and then – unlike other moms – she goes into another world.
It is a world of her own imagination because, after years at a government job, Solheim decided to write a novel. Now, six books later – with more books in the works - she has a much more rewarding job than writing reports and summaries for the U.S. Congress.
Solheim writes about women and for women.
“There’s kind of a blurred line between women’s fiction and romance. A lot of people want to jump on the women’s fiction wagon because they don’t want to be associated with ‘50 Shades of Gray’ and the bodice rippers,” Solheim said.
She still categorizes her books as in the broad category of romance. “But there is more to my books than a Harlequin you would pick up at the grocery store. I have characters with big families and the real-life issues and problems associated with them,” she said.
And there are subplots within the story, as well. One teenage character had to deal with bullying, for instance. Another book had a parallel plot of an older woman entering a relationship.
“So it is not just the one character and the man she loves. There is more than just the romance going on. But I still call myself a romance author because technically they all do end happily, or happy for now.”
A lot of women’s authors shy away from that label although it is what they do, she said.
“That’s their call, and that’s fine. The romance industry is a billion-dollar industry, and I’m not ashamed to be part of it.”
Solheim doesn’t mind mixing her genres a little, injecting touches of the thriller into a couple of her books. But, for the most part, she dances with the partner who brought her to the prom.
A journalist by trade, she has always written. Even in middle school and high school she wrote for the local newspaper in Virginia.
As an adult she worked for NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage.
“But there was better money in government. So I wrote reports and testimony for the former General Accounting Office [now the Government Accountability Office] for 17 years,” she said. “I was always the one trying to glam up the reports with a particular word to see if it would make it through the chain of command and be the soundbite on CNN.”
When her husband sold his company and they moved to Atlanta, Solheim became a stay-at-home mom and read for pleasure.
“One day we were at the beach – pre-Kindle – and there were no books at the bookstore or anything interesting at the library, so I decided to just write one.”
She found she liked it, and then poked around the Internet and found a writing organization for romance.
“I wound up sitting in a few meetings and I ended up selling that first book,” she said. “Pretty quickly I got a three-book deal.”
That was in May of 2013. Her newest book is her seventh, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” No. 8 is due next March. Later this month she’s off to New York to negotiate her ninth and 10th novels.
“I write commercial fiction so they want a book about every six months. Fortunately I have one kid who has graduated college and one who will be a senior in high school this year. So I don’t have to spend so much time on the mommy track anymore,” Solheim said.
“This is actually more of a full-time job than any of us thought it would be.”
So where does the muse strike her? Where does the next character come from? Sometimes they come up through the ranks. They’re a secondary character in one book, and the editors ask for more of that one in the next book. Sometimes readers write to ask for more of a character from another book.
“Readers become attached to a character and want to see more of her.”
That was the case with this recent book, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The lead character in this book first appeared two books ago.
But that is not unusual in the romance genre for readers to have a lot of input, she said.
“Romance is one of those genres where the readers have a lot of interaction with the author. [The publishers] host 30 to 40 events a year to go and meet the readers. Facebook is incredible. I have 4,000 people who send me requests for this character or that one,” Solheim said.
When asked about the hardest part of writing, her answer was short and sweet.
“Putting your butt in the chair,” she said. “But I do love writing. I am lucky to have a publisher and a family that supports what I do.
“I never thought I would get a book deal. It is tough, but I still have the voices inside me. It’s when I get my galleys back that I read it and say, ‘Oh, I really wrote that?’ So it’s still fun. I think will do this for a while longer.”
Her husband says, once the last child is out of the house, they can travel and go to the cities she writes about.
“That would be fun. Then we could write it off.”