You might think that Lucy Grijalva, 43, who was a Cal history major, should spend her time and talents doing more than writing romance novels. You would be wrong.
Romance novels are all about telling a good story packed with emotion. And that's what Grijalva does in "Undercover Love."
Grijalva grew up in Oakland and went to UC Berkeley. It took her five years to graduate and when she finally finished school she was married and eight months' pregnant.
"It was a long haul," she recalled.
She and her husband moved to Benicia in 1983. In 1993, Bill, an Oakland police officer, was killed in the line of duty. A year later, she sold her first romance novel, "Undercover Love," which is dedicated to Bill Grijalva.
"Undercover Love" is the story of a teacher, Julia, who is appalled to see a scruffy character named Rick, looking like an extra in a bad motorcycle movie, move in next door. But there's something about Rick that Julia just can't resist and there's something about Julia that Rick can't get out of his mind....Plus, it turns out that Rick is anything but a low-life. He's an undercover vice cop.
"I always liked cops," said Lucy in a recent interview. And it's no secret that her fictional character Rick is a lot like her late husband. "Undercover Love" sprang from the heart, and that's what makes it work.
And if you haven't read a romance novel lately, Grijalva recommends you do so.
"Romance writing has evolved so much over the past 20 years," she said. "People say to me, 'Oh, I used to read Rosemary Rogers but I haven't read one of those books for years.' It's a whole different ballgame now. Romance novels, for the most part, are about real people who grow and face trouble and experience the joy of falling in love while they resolve their problems.
"Romance writing is upbeat and (mostly) non-violent and it explores a wide range of human issues. Sometimes people who wouldn't be caught dead reading something labeled romance adore books that are romance-plus-something-else (as long as you don't tell them it's a romance). Nora Roberts (aka J.D. Robb) and Tami Hoag are longtime romance writers who also write big mystery/romance books and who regularly make all the best-seller lists. Their readers would probably also enjoy other romance-genre titles, if they'd give them a chance.''
But the road to publishing hasn't been easy. First of all, it's just not as simple as it looks.
"I have two sisters and we're all romance readers. We always talked about writing one. My younger sister wrote one and then I thought I could. I got mine published and my younger sister didn't get published," Grijalva said.
What was her sister's reaction?
"She said: 'Don't even talk to me any more,' " said Grijalva, laughing.
But there were serious problems, too.
"I hit a snag in my career when my husband was murdered right around the same time my first book sold. It took a long, long time for me to even get back to reading, let alone writing. Let me clarify that. I never gave up writing -- I produce the newsletters for three nonprofit groups -- but romance writing, fiction writing, eluded me.''
Plus, Grijalva is raising her two children, a son and daughter, who are now teen-agers.
She also is a quilter who belongs to the Carquinez Strait Stitchers. It was in connection with quilting that Grijalva received a very meaningful gift. Karen Boutte, whose husband is an officer for the Oakland Public Schools police services unit, made a four-foot square wall hanging with each panel depicting an aspect of "Undercover Love."
"I take that with me to every book signing I ever do," said Grijalva.
And seeing her first book in print was highly motivational, too. (She sold the book in 1994, but it wasn't published until 1996.)
"And my friends browbeat me into joining their book group, so I started getting my fill of literature. I'm back to reading all kinds of fiction and nonfiction regularly. And best of all, I'm writing again -- I have several projects in the works (including a second romance novel) and it feels really good," she said.
Bookshop Benicia carries "Undercover Love" or it can be ordered directly from the author at P.O. Box 1634, Benicia CA 94510. The cost is $7 and includes postage.
One last question. What do the two teen-agers think of their mother's success as a romance writer?
"Oh," she said. "They're mortified."