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Hunting hawks were a sign of wonder to come

April 29, 2012
Messenger News

Never have I seen hawks hunting in pairs, but that happened twice on my trip to Ottumwa to meet a new friend.

Seems a long way to go for lunch, but I had to be at the airport in Des Moines that night to pick up my daughter, who was flying in from Denver. Twice I saw hawks hunting in pairs a sign of wonder for me.

The friend I met for lunch is romance novelist Leigh Michaels, who writes "sweet" romances the ones that don't rely on explicit sex to make a story. Hers are set in Regency England, so you know they're going to be almost G-rated.


Michaels has written more than 80 novels, an impressive feat. She's also a teacher of the craft, both at writing institutes and in online classes.

Before I retired from The Messenger, she'd sent a novel to me for a possible mention, but I never found time to read it. When I left, I wanted to keep the book, so I never told anyone about it. I feel only slightly sneaky.

"Just One Season in London" is all it takes to find love or scandal. That description plus the cover photo make the book appealing. The writing makes it sensational.

When I read, it's difficult to turn off the copy editing signal in my brain. Some books makes me nuts because reading feels like work. "One Season" didn't need any help. Better, it took me back to the time I exchanged letters with Barbara Cartland, the best-selling romance novelist of all time. I sent my first fan letter when I wrote to Cartland. When she answered, it felt like talking to a friend.

When I first emailed Michaels, I thought only to talk to her electronically, but I ended up at lunch with her for well over two hours, loving every minute of it. Well, maybe not every minute. The tenderloin got a D- grade compared to the A+ of Big John's sandwich, but the company made everything great.

Michaels' reason for writing romance is simple: "There's enough darkness in the world," she said. "I want to escape from that."

She wrote her first novel when she was 14, but insists she was smart enough to keep it hidden. In fact, she burned the first six novels she wrote. Finally, on book No. 7, "it felt different," she said. That was the beginning of a beautiful career.

Michaels said she burned those first novels because she wanted no chance of anyone digging them out of hiding after her death to publish them. That happened to author Jacqueline Susann, she said, and that early book a stinker shadowed Susann's memory.

Michaels credits her first editor for helping her career. "I knew my novel wasn't all it could be, but I didn't know how to make it better." The editor helped her figure it out, and the rest, they say is history. History and a whole lot of wonder.

Kind of like hawks hunting in pairs.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at



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