Rachel Spangler, a Fredonia resident and prolific young author of lesbian romance novels, isn't letting any grass grow under her feet. "Spanish Heart" is her fifth book published with Bold Strokes Books, but she also just published her sixth novel, "Does She Love You?" with the same publisher.
And it's not just Spangler's literary output that impresses people. She is dedicated to writing well-crafted stories in a genre that isn't best known for character development and plot. Spangler is changing minds one reader at a time about what romance fiction is - or at least what it can be - when it's written by an author who creates realistic characters with genuine human emotions.
Spangler's books have been called "more than romances," but Spangler has a different idea:
"I don't know that my books are more than romance, so much as they are more than people's stereotypes of romance," she says. "The genre has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but some of the world's most cherished books are romances. Jane Austen wrote romances. So did Charlotte Bronte. These weren't just frivolous stories: They spoke to the real issues facing real women, and I hope that's what my work does, too."
Spangler's work reminds us that although the word "love" is often thrown around in ways that make a joke of the concept, the capability to love is one of the things that makes us human and gives life meaning; there is nothing silly about it.
"I write about the transformative power of love. I believe that falling in love is one of the most fundamentally human things we do. It connects us across age, race and culture. For me that's what the romance genre is about," Spangler explains.
Author: Rachel Spangler
Book: "Spanish Heart"
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (2012)
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Many people hear the words "romance novel" and think of Fabio's flowing locks, tropical islands and ripped bodices. While that may be the angle from which some romance authors work, Spangler presents women and their relationships in a more realistic and respectful light. Women are not objects to be "had" or toys to be played with. Rather, they are individuals with their own failures and successes; they are trying, as we all are, to find happiness and some measure of success in this less-than-perfect world.
"I write about women juggling jobs and relationships, overcoming their pasts, and a society that too often tells them they don't really matter," Spangler says. "I also write what we call 'girl-next-door' romances, so I hope when you read my books you can identify strongly with the characters. I want you to recognize your friends, your family, and most of all yourself in the women I write."
Of course, to work within a genre means that an author must adhere to some of its conventions.
"The Romance Writers of America says that for a book to be a romance there has to be a central love story and an optimistic and emotionally satisfying ending, and because I write romances, you know you can always expect those two things from my books," Spangler says.
Aside from complex characters and carefully-constructed plots, Spangler's work is also known for being lesbian fiction; the drama surrounding her female characters is derived in part from their romantic relationships with other women. However, readers of all sexual orientations enjoy Spangler's books for their quality and depth of characters.
"(My characters) deal with everything a straight romance would entail, but (the books) also feature some of the hardships faced by women who love other women. It's a complicating factor, but a very humanizing one," she explains.
Spangler's novels are filled with endearing characters, interesting plot turns and vivid descriptions. Her readers feel immersed in the worlds of her novels from the start, and it's easy to see why. This description from "Spanish Heart" picks the reader up and sets him or her down in the middle of a Spanish city street:
"My lungs expanded to take in the Mediterranean air, thick with the smell of salt and fresh-cut flowers. A wash of vivid colors spilled from the vendors and down wide walkways, from street performers painted silver and gold to fruit stands displaying oranges, apples and grapes. Around me, people spoke in a multitude of languages, Spanish, French, English, and some sounded like a mix of all three. Nothing about the first twenty years of my life prepared me for my first taste of Spain."
Writing talent like that takes years to develop, and although Spangler is a young woman, she got an early start with encouraging results.
"I wrote my first two books largely while in college. Both of those books won Golden Crown Literary Awards, which I thought was great fun. At the award ceremony I had the privilege of seeing one of my heroes, Lee Lynch, accept the Trailblazer award, which is a lifetime achievement award. Hearing her talk about a life spent writing, sharing herself with her readers and building those kinds of career-sustaining relationships really moved me. It made me want to be better, for myself and for my readers. That was the moment I decided to make a life and a career out of writing the kinds of stories I could be proud of," Spangler recalls.
Like many authors, Spangler derives inspiration from the world around her, and is constantly alert for new story and character ideas.
"I find (ideas) everywhere," she says. "A character may have a friend's nervous habit, a family member's job, my own insecurities, and a funny back story I heard while eavesdropping on someone at the mall. I always start with characters' central conflicts, not just the external stimuli, but the heart of what drives them, then I build them from the inside out."
Ask Spangler which of her books is her favorite, though, and she can't tell you.
"Asking an author to pick a favorite book is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child," she says. "They all brought their own challenges and their own rewards. Each one taught me something important, and the one I like best is usually the one I'm working on at the moment."
Spangler's schedule is pretty full - she is a supportive spouse and a dedicated mother whose family is her first priority. She admits that things get hectic, but she always carves out time to work on her writing. And, she explains, writing IS work.
"I have a five year old at home," she says, "so I try to write when he's at school. I do try to write every weekday because writing, like any kind of exercise, gets easier the more you do it, and only a few days off can set me back quite a bit Writing is work: It's hard and sometimes emotionally exhausting. Like any other professional, writers have days when they just aren't feeling it, but that doesn't mean we can't show up."
Even on those exhausting days, Spangler wouldn't trade her career for any other. She still writes with the same inspiration and dedication she found that day listening to Lee Lynch, and she knows better than to take her success for granted.
"I am tremendously blessed to be able to do this kind of work," Spangler says. "The least I can do is sit down every day and keep my hands on the keyboard."
Spangler's novels can be found on Amazon.com in hardcopy and Kindle editions or bought directly from her publisher at www.boldstrokesbooks.com. Fans can also purchase signed copies right from Spangler via PayPal by emailing her at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com. Follow her blog at http://rachelspangler.wordpress. com.
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