By day, Beth Williamson is a technical writer and mom to two teen boys in Zebulon. By night - and whenever else she has the time - she's a romance novelist, working on the latest of her award-winning books.
Even as a child, Williamson was a writer. And like many young girls, she discovered romance novels when she was about 11 or 12 after finding her mom's stash.
Williamson's writing interests took a different turn for a bit. She graduated with a degree in dramatic writing from New York University, working on plays and screenwriting. But by her mid-20s, after the birth of her first child, she returned to romance novels.
"That's where my heart belong and that's what I love to do," she tells me.
It took her a decade to publish her first novel, finding support and tips from fellow local romance writers through Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, a local chapter of the national Romance Writers of America network. The group will hold a workshop this Saturday at the Sheraton Imperial in Research Triangle Park.
Since her first book was published, Williamson has won a variety awards from groups that follow and support romance writers, including the 2010 Best Western Romance from The Romance Reviews. Her 21st book will be published this February.
Romance novels have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, Williamson says. No longer are they just "under the cover bodice rippers," as she called them. There are now subgenres within the romance novel world, including science fiction, westerns, historical novels, mysteries and more. Some even put together two subgenres - a cowboys in space romance novel, for instance.
"These are genuine novels that really take you on a journey with romance woven in," says Williamson, whose specialties include historical and western romance novels.
Williamson, who also publishes under the name Emma Lang, gets her inspiration from reading other books and life. She named her Devils on Horseback series after the name of a dish at a restaurant in Louisburg. (She passed on the plate of oysters and hot sauce though).
Her husband and sons aren't big readers of her work, but her mom, dad and sister-in-law might just be among her biggest fans.
"It's the most fun job in the world," she tells me. "I get very emotionally attached to my stories and characters. I'll weep when I write. I have to be in my character's point of view. Every one of them is one of my children. I feel like I've taken a part of me and given it to the world."
Williamson says she's found all kinds of support and advice through Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. The group's members include people in their 20s to their 60s from all walks of life. Many of them are moms, she tells me. And many hope that romance writing will mean they can one day quit their day job.
"The thing we have in common is our love of romance novels," she says.
The group meets monthly for workshops and networking and hosts online workshops and maintains an email loop for its members. It includes bestselling romance writers and writers who are just starting out.
The group will host a special workshop this Saturday featuring New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cherry Adair. The all-day workshop is designed for writers who are looking to improve their craft and break into the publishing world.
It's from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Imperial on Page Road in Research Triangle Park. From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., bestselling local authors, including Williamson, Sabrina Jeffries, Katharine Ashe, Virginia Kantra, Lydia Dare, Emilie Rose, Deb Marlowe and more will sign books. The workshop fee is $55 for the general public.