Romance novelist Cathy Maxwell is the author of over 30 books; her work is also published in five anthologies. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
Cathy Maxwell’s path to best-selling romance novelist status was an unlikely one.
Maxwell, the author of 30 books in 24 years (including 10 New York Times best-sellers) has a résumé that includes stints as a broadcaster, then as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer.
The Powhatan County resident’s professional journey began in college at Washburn University in Topeka, where she majored in communications and theater. Post college in 1975, the Olathe, Kansas, native became a television reporter in her home state, covering the tri-city area of Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal.
“The station was right in the middle of the three of them, in the middle of a wheat field. They [were] lovely communities,” she says.
Then known as Cathy Wollen (her maiden name), she did it all: voice-overs, news stories, weather reports and station vacuuming. “It was the best job coming out of school to get involved in,” she says.
After two years, she was poised to move to a larger market. While mulling her decision, she remembered the time in high school when she told her mother she wanted to go into the Navy.
“My mother said, ‘You don’t want to do that. You’re not that kind of girl. You want to go to college.’ ”
Remembering that moment helped Maxwell realize that if she did not try to pursue her dream of the Navy, she would always regret it. “I got to this point where I was like, ‘I want to go out. I want to see the world.’ And off I went into the Navy!”
Loving the Navy
For six years, the future romance novelist was a naval intelligence officer. She was selected for Officer Candidate School in 1979, a rarity for women at the time. “It was really hard for women to get into OCS.”
During her time in the service, she also found love.
Kevin Maxwell was in basic training with her, two years before Officer Candidate School. Their first date was in Newport, Rhode Island, for lunch, which turned into dinner. “It was a great day,” she says.
“Max had a profile one would never forget,” she adds in an email. ”He also had that special air of confidence. I started dating him mid-January, said ‘yes’ to his proposal around the first of February, went to my next duty station while he went to his, and then we got together Memorial Day weekend , married and went back to our stations.”
Such a quick courtship could be seen as risky. But, she says, “It all worked out. Yes, I am a bit amazed and feel we were incredibly lucky.”
The couple had two daughters and a son and were happily married for 25 years, until he died in 2004 in a skiing accident.
Has his passing affected her writing?
“I am not so glib,” she says. “Love is never easy and having had and lost it, I want the characters in my books to be aware of exactly how rare and unique the feelings of love are.”
A Passion for Writing
Maxwell had long enjoyed reading, but never chose romance novels. That changed when she got her hands on Fierce Eden, by Jennifer Blake. “The depth of emotion and storytelling — it inspired me,” she says.
She began to pick up any available romance novel, and started to fill spiral-bound notebooks with her own romance stories. “It still took a while before I actually sat down and started writing,” she says. “The first time I did that, I used spiral-bound notebooks and I just wrote away, wrote away, wrote away!”
In 1988, Maxwell and her family moved from Connecticut to the Brandermill community in Midlothian, for her husband’s sales work.
About three years later, she saw a notice that romance novelist Christine Dorsey was set to appear at the Midlothian Library, and Maxwell decided to go and meet her.
Dorsey offered writing tips. Maxwell took notes, and a career was born.
“If it wasn’t for that library, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says. “In the back of [my] mind there was always this idea to write a book.”
Her first novel, All Things Beautiful, was released in 1994 and earned her several literary nominations.
Her most recent title is The Seduction of Scandal, which was released by Avon Books in September. Her 1999 title Because of You was reissued in October. A Little Thing Called Love, a novella prequel to her new series, “Marrying the Duke,” also came out in October. The first actual title in the series, The Match of the Century, was set for release Nov. 24.
She specializes in historical romance, with many of her works set in England in the early 1800s. For Maxwell, her subject matter is the essence of life.
“I’m here to tell a good story,” she says. “I believe love is the great adventure of life. Who we love and how well we are loved in return are two of the hallmarks of successful living.”
That attitude is evident in her books, and has given her a horde of fans, called the Max Pack. It’s just good writing that happens to be in the romance category.
“Cathy Maxwell’s books are funny, engaging and suspenseful in addition to being romantic,” says Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore. “I think Cathy’s books are so popular because her personal sense of life as an adventure shines through in every book, as does her wonderful sense of humor.”
Maxwell’s best-selling status hasn’t intimidated prospective suitors.
“They seem more interested in how much money I make than my viewpoint on relationships,” she says. “Nor have they expressed a fear that they will see themselves in one of my books. Bold souls.”
She finds inspiration in everyday activities, and draws from her environment. She uses the “what if” approach: “What if this happened and led to that?”
She says that many people come up to her and say that they want to write a book. Her response is, “Why don’t you?”
“I’ve always had this thing inside of me that if I thought I wanted to try something, I’d try it.” That, she says, is the secret to her success.
Maxwell focuses on the now and today, not the yesterday or tomorrow. Many of her friends are “slowing down” and doing less, she says, but she wants to continue moving and doing things that excite her.
“Embrace your life. No matter how crazy the dream is, go after it,” she says. “It’s always going to take you down a different path than where you could have possibly imagined you were going — it always will.”