Michelle Major’s life was vastly different before she started cranking out Harlequin romance novels.
Instead of giving people happily ever afters, her job in human resources during the dotcom bust two decades ago required her to give people not-so-happy endings.
“My job was traveling around the country to lay people off, which was a horrible job,” says the Colorado Springs novelist. “I developed an awful fear of flying. Once I was in an airport bookstore and picked up a romance novel. It sucked me in and was a huge escape. It made me forget where I was.”
It also made her realize the stories that constantly ran through her head were tales of romance waiting to be told. The seed was planted.
Clearly, Major tended that tiny inkling of an idea well, as she’s now the author of 35 romance novels, 30 of which are with Harlequin, the quintessential publisher for lovers of love. Her latest series, “The Magnolia Sisters,” is a trilogy. Part one, “The Magnolia Sisters,” was released in March. The second, “The Merriest Magnolia,” will debut Tuesday, and the final book, “The Last Carolina Sister,” will arrive next March.
At the heart of the series are three women who find out they’re related when their recently deceased father’s will is read. They learn he was a “bit of a rascal,” says Major, and had children with three mothers. The idea for the series was further rounded out by a real-life family friend of Major who discovered surprising family history about herself through a DNA test.
“Striking the perfect balance of romance, heat and drama, this optimistic love story is a sweet start to a promising series, perfect for fans of Debbie Macomber,’” wrote Publishers Weekly about the first book in the series. Macomber is a bestselling author with many a romance novel in her oeuvre.
Writing always came naturally to Major, who has a journalism degree, but it took awhile to find her voice. She approached her burgeoning writing career studiously, reading books about craft, commercial fiction and story structure. Many a romance novel was consumed, and she dutifully woke at 5 a.m. to put words on the page.
“There was a lot of rejection before a book contract came in, some of them kind and encouraging and some you feel like they’re peeling the skin away from your body,” she says.
“Writing is really personal. It’s a job, but I’m also putting a part of myself into these characters and these stories. You develop a thick skin.”
Major has her own love story of a blind date that caught fire. Raised in Cincinnati, she moved to Denver in 1993 after graduating from Ohio University. Through a tangle of inter-relationships, she was set up with her now husband sight unseen. He lived in the Springs. Their first date came a month after her beloved grandfather died. Unbeknownst to her, her grandfather and her husband’s father had worked in the same department at General Electric.
“I think it’s fate,” she says. “I felt like he was the one.”
Romance novels are a billion-dollar industry and account for one-third of mass market fiction books sold, reported the website MarktWatch.com in 2018. Even if Major wasn’t getting published, she’d still be writing her stories in some fashion, she says. Love is a universal emotion, and to be swept away by a story is comforting and relatable.
“That’s why romance readers are extremely devoted to the books they love and to the authors,” Major says.
“It’s a powerful community for women because it’s a lot of women’s voices which sometimes don’t get to be heard in other genres.”