By Rick Farrant
Every time Shirley Kawa-Jump’s husband Jeff comes home from work, she smiles.
He doesn’t always see the smile. Sometimes, it’s a private expression of gratitude before he even gets in the door – one of those intimate recognitions that everything in the world is once again rich now that a valued family member is back in the fold.
“There hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been happy to see him, no matter what’s going on in our lives,” she says. “It’s probably pretty geeky, but it works.”
In her private life and in her writing. The notion of romance, oft-criticized by books critics and by cynics in general, is very much at the heart of who she is.
“I write about love because I believe in love. It’s as simple as that.
“My books celebrate love and laughter in life. And, in light of what’s happened in the last year and a half, I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s important to reinforce those values.”
Kawa-Jump, the Fort Wayne author of the newly released “The Virgin’s Proposal” (Harlequin/Silhouette; $3.99), is one of four romance authors who will converge Saturday on Barnes & Noble to discuss their works. The others: Suzanne Simmons of Fort Wayne, a veteran romance author whose last book was “Lip Service” (St. Martins; $6.50) and who has another due out in 2004; Brenda Hiatt of Indianapolis, author of “A Rebellious Bride” (Avon; $5.99), and Judie Aitken of Indianapolis, author of “A Place Called Home” (Jove; $5.99).
She almost quit
Kawa-Jump is the “novice” in the group. Although she’s written 11 romance novels, “The Virgin’s Proposal” is the first to be published. She’s also published a regional biography, a writer’s guide called “How To Publish Your Articles” (Square One; $17.95), and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles.
The gregarious 34-year-old mother of two is as driven as they come, and that is largely how she got to where she is today. That, and the level-headed help of her husband of 12 years.
It wasn’t so very long ago – June 23, 2001, to be precise – that Kawa-Jump was ready to throw in the towel on her writing career. That was the day her agent told her in a letter that she would no longer be promoting Kawa-Jump’s materials – that she should quit writing because she didn’t have what it took to succeed.
“The Virgin’s Proposal” had been sent to Harlequin/Silhouette in May, but somehow had been lost (temporarily, it turned out) in the stacks of submissions. That was defeat enough.
But the agent’s letter was the final straw.
“I mean, I had gotten about 120 rejection letters on books, but I had finally given up on me,” Kawa-Jump says.
She emptied her computer hard drive and tossed everything else in her office – manuscripts and other assorted writing-related materials – in three trash bags.
Jeff to the rescue No. 1: He encouraged his wife to wait awhile, to not rush to judgment.
She conceded, restoring the hard drive documents and sparing the trash bags from the refuse pile. But she couldn’t bring herself to write for a full week.
Then, exactly a week to the day of her creative meltdown, a package from Harlequin arrived in the mail – the kind of package every writer knows contains a returned manuscript.
Figuring it was another rejection, Kawa-Jump threw it in the garbage.
Jeff to the rescue No. 2: He fished the package out of the trash can, opened it and gave his wife some startling – and good – news.
A cover letter from a senior editor began: “Dear Shirley, I love this book, and I am interested in buying it.”
Attached was a four-page note suggesting revisions to the manuscript.
The result was a publication contract and a 185-page book about the union of two unlikely souls – a shy, take-no-chances flower shop employee named Katie and a motorcycle-riding hunk with a dubious past named Matt.
Early reviews of the book, which is published under a shortened byline (Shirley Jump), have been stellar.
Romantic Times bills it as a “Hot Debut Romance” and calls it “a winner. There’s nothing like a reformed bad boy for a winning hero.”
Timeless Tales says it’s “an amazing story of love, friendship and emotional healing.”
A love renewed
“The Virgin’s Proposal,” the first of a four-part series, is part of a line of Harlequin/Silhouette books known as Sweet Romances, where relationships are never consummated during the course of the stories.
There are a slew of other lines, including Desire, Intimate and Temptation.
This formulaic approach, which always includes happy endings, is what some people scoff at when discussing romance novels. Schmaltzy, they say. Predictable.
But Kawa-Jump says that, within the structure, there’s ample room to make a story unique.
“I like to see how the relationship develops, and everything that happens to them emotionally makes the story different,” she says. “For me, the relationship propels the character growth.”
It also does something else. It reaffirms her own convictions about the wonder of love.
“For a lot of us, (these stories) remind us of what it was like before we said, ‘I do.’ ” Those magical moments.
“As an author, if you do it right emotionally, it brings you back to what made you love in the first place.”