By Sydney Campbell
When the pandemic first hit and the country went into lockdown, most people turned to one thing, one hobby, one obsession, to help them get through. For some, that was baking sourdough, for others it was gardening. For me, it was writing contemporary romance.
I have been a professional writer for the past seven years, having left my career to pursue (what I thought was) my one true passion—creative non-fiction. And as much as I loved it, opportunities grew slim once Covid struck. This left me with a lot of time on my hands, and even more time for my already anxious brain to play out every possible disaster scenario. I needed an escape. I needed my sourdough.
I’d never read much romance in the past, but I started picking up the odd book. It took me a long time to find what I enjoyed, and somewhere along that journey, I decided to try writing some of my own. I signed up for some online workshops to get myself into a space where I could write fiction and really let myself go. Everything I’d written prior had been so grounded it truth it was almost unbelievable to me that I was able to just make the whole thing up.
When I sat down to start my first novella, I spent a lot of time thinking about the characters I wanted to write. I’d already planned it as the first book in a four-part series, and I wanted to try my hand at something steamy, so I knew I had to like this couple. A lot.
Allie Styles was a gift. She was the perfect first-time heroine for me—bold, brash, sexy, and just flawed enough that I’d really have to work on her character throughout the series. Taking her from emotionally immature to genuinely head-over-heels in love was one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve had as a writer to date. It made me hungry for more.
The second series followed naturally, a spin-off of Allie’s story that takes place in her courtyard. It was only three books, but they were a blast to write because it allowed me to experiment with stand-alone stories that were all somehow interconnected. At the same time, I was honing my sex writing, which was proving to be a lot of fun.
With the first two series released, things in the real world were starting to look up for summer. We’d been in lockdown for months, watching Covid cases rise as our hospital ICUs filled to capacity. Now there was talk of vaccine schedules and relaxed restrictions. I immediately reached for the phone and booked our favourite rental cottage for two weeks in July. It’s located in the Quebec Laurentians and over the years has slowly become one of my favourite places on earth. Where better to recharge than on the lake, surrounded by mountains?
And with this small return to normalcy, I started thinking about my writing. Was I going to be wandering in the wilderness forever? Four books here, three books there? I’d been hearing all this talk about finding a lane, somewhere you’re comfortable staying for a while in order to dominate that marketplace.
Up until then, I hadn’t thought of my romance writing as anything more than a hobby and a way to deal with the pandemic. When the world outside became unbearable, it was much easier to create my own world where everyone fell in love and there was always a happy ending. But suddenly, I started thinking in terms of career, and that’s when I shifted gears.
My first stop was to make an appointment with a consultant, someone who could help me market my books. They were selling surprisingly well for a hobby, but I knew there was more potential for them. Based on her advice, I changed my covers, my blurbs, and really focused on putting together a plan that included regular promotions and newsletters in order to build a loyal following. I assembled an ARC team and signed up for indie publishing conferences, gathering as much intelligence as I could.
And then I sat down to write again. But this time, I had a secret weapon. While I was focused on the business aspect of publishing, I’d also been putting together some pitches for movies. Every single one of them was rejected, but I knew I had good story ideas and engaging characters. And they had a common theme—they all took place in a small northern town.
I thought of our favourite cottage, nestled in the beautiful area of Val des Lacs, and immediately decided to set my new series in a fictional version of the same town. Lake Valley didn’t sound great, but Mountain Valley had a nice ring to it. And just like that, my series was born.
I took each one of those movie pitches and fleshed them out into full-length novels, as opposed to the shorter novellas of my earlier series. I reworked the characters so that they were all rooted in this one place. While each book is a complete, stand-alone story, they all contain the same characters who make appearances in each of the books: they can be enjoyed alone, but they’re so much richer when read in context.
I’m currently working on Book 5 of the series, and I’ve got at least another five plotted out. I spent my two weeks at the cottage, and it was almost surreal to be able to write some of these stories while sitting on the dock and staring out at the sun setting over the lake.
And now, as the Delta variant makes clear that it has no intentions of leaving quietly, I’m once again grateful for this universe I’ve created for myself. If restrictions are reimposed, if heaven forbid we return to lockdown, at least I’ve got somewhere I can escape to. And this time, I can repay the kindness those early authors extended to me with their own books, and invite you all to come along.
Sydney Campbell came onto the contemporary romance scene with Temptation, her debut novella which introduced readers to Allie Styles and Matt Goldberg, a couple of star-crossed lovers who share smart dialogue, wild adventures, and smoking-hot sex. Campbell enjoys writing relatable characters who are facing the same struggles and obstacles we face every day. But they face them with humour, wit, and passion. Lots of steamy passion.
Campbell grew up in a semi-traditional household filled with artists. Both her parents and siblings pursued their dreams in one way or another, so she decided to follow suit. Her entire family is proud of her writing career. They just don’t know about this side of it. Shhh.