Romance novel gave author love of reading
October 30, 2002
She was 14 years old then, a sad kid handed off by teachers who knew she couldn’t read and living in a home so utterly devoid of love and parenting that nobody much cared anyway.
But one day, a book caught her eye while she was baby sitting. It was a Rosemary Rogers romance novel, steamy stuff for a teen girl. It took her months to get through it because she had to look up nearly every word.
When she was done, she read it again.
Now, 26 years later, that same shy kid who couldn’t read has written her own romance novel.
“I was the kid who asked to go to the bathroom when it was time to read in class,” Cynthia Simmons 40, of Farmington Hills, says today, shaking her head at the memories.
“It was like, ‘Please, please, please don’t call on me,’ because I knew I’d stumble over every word.”
Simmons, who understands the importance of Friday’s National Family Literacy Day, will be signing her book, “Anything, My Love,” at Barnes & Noble in Northville on Nov. 9.
In her book, set in the Old West, Derinda James is an eastern beauty who goes to the Arizona Territory to meet her real father. He’s killed by a man he helped raise and Derinda vows revenge against Clinton Gage. The pair, through trials, eventually come together in love.
Simmons says after discovering the romance novel, she simply taught herself how to read.
“I started, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m not a total idiot. I can do this,’ ” she says.
She gained confidence, even without the support of her family.
The author, who works in real estate sales, grew up in rural mid-Michigan, moving around a lot of the time. Her childhood was pretty awful, and included a suicide attempt when she was just 11, she says, surprisingly candid about her early experiences.
Her dad, now deceased, had a closed-head injury and her mother simply wasn’t prepared for motherhood and couldn’t show affection, she said. Nobody checked her report cards. Nobody knew she was miserable at school, Simmons says.
Two days after she turned 17 years old, she got married.
“It was at the courthouse and I was wearing a sundress from Kmart that cost $12,” Simmons says.
The couple, now divorced, had three children, Jimmy, 21, Jonathan, 20, and Mistie Dawn, 18.
Simmons also has a dozen pets, including ferrets, three dogs, three cats, a rabbit convinced that a cat is his mother, three lizards and a bearded dragon.
Of her children, Simmons says she wanted and gave them a different childhood from the one she had.
“I was going to get married and have the perfect life and give them everything I didn’t have,” she says.
Simmons eventually earned her general equivalency diploma and went on to college, where she earned an associate’s degree and made the dean’s list. She read and kept reading.
After she had her daughter, Simmons says, she started writing at a little desk with a word processor and a candelabrum for inspiration.
“I had read some of the most magnificent things,” she says. “But I didn’t just want to read anymore. I wanted to invent these characters and shape their lives.”
Her first efforts were on a book called “Horizon in the Mist,” which she eventually hopes to publish as well.
She kept going, working nights and spending days volunteering at her kids’ schools, coaching their teams, helping out with Cub Scouts, giving them all the love and attention she could.
She worked, too, at a jewelry business, at a factory where she made robes for Sears, at Burger King and at a race track.
But writing remained important to her. About six or seven years ago, needing to take care of older family members, she set all her work away in a cedar chest. A few years ago, she dug it out.
There was “Anything, My Love” although it hadn’t been titled yet. Simmons decided to go for it and get her books published. It wasn’t easy; there were plenty of rejection letters until she found a publisher.
Today, her books have to sell largely by word-of-mouth because while they’re available online, they aren’t available in bookstores.
Simmons is working on a sequel to “Anything, My Love,” and has ideas for other books. She’s taken vacations to some of the places she uses as settings in her historical romances.
The author says she likes happy endings – the idea of love conquering all.
Today, her desk sits in her bedroom, filled with lace curtains and more candelabras – the perfect setting for a little romantic inspiration.
“Do I want the fairy tale, too? Oh yeah. If it’s out there I may find it,” she says with a little laugh.
She just smiles at romance critics who dismiss the genre as trashy or silly.
“When people sit down to a television, they don’t have to spend every minute watching the Discovery Channel,” Simmons says. “Romances are just for enjoyment, fun. I love mysteries, too, just not enough to write one.”
Besides, one of those romances helped change her life. She still has it, packed away for safekeeping.
“I can’t imagine how I could function today if I couldn’t read or write,” she says.
©The Oakland Press 2002