Scientific Researcher by Day, Romance Writer by Night: Claire Gem Writes for Her Life

Have you ever run out of great books to read in your genre? If so, write your own! That’s how Claire Gem decided to write her debut novel, Phantom Traces. If you’re like me, you will love the premise of this book: What better place to fall in love than in a haunted library?

Read on to learn more about Claire’s path to publication.

How long have you wanted to be a romance writer? 

I read my first romance, A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux, 25 years ago. I was hooked and would have started writing a lot sooner except that life got in the way. My career and family kept me busy, and my hobby was showing horses. That didn’t leave much time to write. But about 5 years ago, I’d given up my last horse, the kids were out on their own, and it was time to sit down at the keyboard and let out all the stories running in my head.

What inspired you to write this story?

I am obsessed with libraries and thought it was the perfect place for a romance novel. I’m also fascinated by the paranormal, and yes, I do believe in ghosts. What better place for a ghostly romance than in an old library? I actually wrote the first two chapters of Phantom Traces sitting in the Richard Sudbury Library in Spencer, MA. It’s a lovely old building, full of character. I dragged my laptop in, found a quiet corner, and started writing.

Describe your process for writing this particular book.

I did a lot of research first, particularly in creating the Harvey Library. There are dozens of really old libraries within a 50-mile radius from my home, and I visited every one of them, taking pictures and soaking in the vibes. The Harvey is a conglomeration of elements drawn from all of those old buildings.

Then I searched for “photos” of my characters. I knew exactly what Abigail and Jack looked like in my mind, and finding Abigail’s pic was easy. It took a little longer to find Jack, but when I did, I posted both on my desktop so they were always right there to inspire me.

How long did the book take to complete?

30 days—sort of. Phantom Traces was the result of my first NaNoWriMo participation: National Novel Writing Month. Every year in November, this organization holds an online challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That’s 1667 words a day! It doesn’t sound like much, but EVERY day, while you’re still working full time, well, it was quite the challenge. But I persevered. By November 30, I had 54,000 words and The End—and a big mess! But the skeleton of the story was there, and over the next year and a half, I developed it into a 95,000-word novel.


Was this the first book you had written?

No, I actually wrote another romance, a contemporary, about 5 years ago, which got enough rejections to paper my office walls. So I put it aside. But after Phantom Traces sold, I re-edited it and pitched it at a conference last spring, where it sold to Lachesis Publishing. It will be the first in The Lake George Series entitled Memories of You.

Did you work on simultaneous projects?

Sort of. Although I had only one novel draft going at the time, I also write articles and do book reviews for magazines. So when I needed a break from Phantom Traces, I worked on those.

How did you fit your writing into the rest of your life?

I was working full time for Tufts University in scientific research (and still do). Left brain by day, right brain at night! My kids were already out on their own, so I had more time to devote to writing after hours.

Like breathing, I’d reached the point where I really didn’t have any choice—not when characters woke me up in the middle of the night! I wrote early a.m., late afternoon when I got home from work, and well into the night.

Were you involved in a writer’s group?

Yes, and they are actually mentioned in the dedication for Phantom Traces. The RomCrit Group is run by a lovely lady in Canada named Margo. She collects 5000-word submissions every month from over a hundred members and redistributes them for critiques. This group has been crucially instrumental in developing my writing career.

Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?

Well, my husband is a captive audience—literally! He listened to every chapter as I completed it and gave me initial reactions. But then it went out to the RomCrit Group, one chapter at a time.

Did you have a market in mind when you started writing the book?

Actually, I love reading romances with ghosts, and had literally exhausted the supply of what I could find available to read. I thought, “there aren’t nearly enough of these being written. I think I’ll write one.”

How many submissions did you send out?

For Phantom Traces, I sent out about 25 or 30 queries. I got a dozen rejections, and the rest still have not responded. Guess they missed out if they do now!

Did you work with an agent?

No, I did not. I did this all on my own, carefully researching the market, drafting queries, clicking “send,” and never giving up. It was time consuming and frustrating at times, but an education I wouldn’t trade.

What did you do when you found out you would be published?

I screamed. I was at work in my office, and scared the secretary nearly to death! Then I printed off the email before it disappeared and went running down the hall to share the news.

Who was the first person you called?

My husband. I really, really, really wanted to call my dad, but I don’t have his number in heaven. 😦

What happened between hearing your yes and getting the book to print?

An editing process that I still have nightmares about. Phantom Traces was bounced from one editor to another during the process, and the one I ended up with HATED my characters, my story, AND my voice. The process was painful, very painful, and at times I didn’t think I’d ever work through it.

What has surprised you most about this process?

That a publisher doesn’t always screen the freelance editors they assign to their authors. I believe this particular editor was the worst possible match for my work. But it taught me to have the confidence to stand my ground and protect my story and my voice. It got much easier with the second book and a different editor!

What would you change if you could?

I’d have been more patient and gone through the final edited version one more time, reading it out loud, to catch all the errors that slipped past the editing process.


What better place to fall in love than in a haunted library?

A hunky history professor in a tweed jacket, a cheeky Goth chick, and a pipe-smoking, book-hurling ghost. Put them all together in an antiquated library and, well…

Professor Jack Wood’s silver-streaked hair definitely ages him, and he can thank Killer Dawn for that. He won’t be falling into the love trap again anytime real soon. But this new librarian has him curious, with her head-to-toe black Goth garb, piercings, and a defiant attitude to match. Definitely not his type of girl, but still…

Abigail Stryker’s got her work cut out for her. The last two librarians didn’t last a month before airborne books chased them off. But Abby’s determined to make her new life a go – and to stay as far away from older men as possible. Once was enough. Might be tough to do when the library’s best patron is none other than dreamy-eyed Jack Wood. And it seems the eccentric ghost may have taken a shine to her as well.

claire gen photo

Claire Gem writes contemporary romance with a ghostly twist. An avid reader, she’s a fan of strong but sensitive heroes, spunky, sexy heroines, and a ghost story worth a few goose bumps. She loves creating characters so real, readers miss them when the book is closed.

After achieving her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Claire settled in central Massachusetts with her husband of 36 years (yes, happily-ever-after really does exist). Always fascinated by the paranormal, she holds a Certificate in Paranormal Studies from Duke University’s Rhine’s Research Center.

Chased by those pesky ghosts, Claire writes for her life.

Phantom Traces – available in ebook & audiobook


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3 thoughts on “Scientific Researcher by Day, Romance Writer by Night: Claire Gem Writes for Her Life

  1. Pingback: Scientific Researcher by Day, Romance Writer by Night: Claire Gem Writes for Her Life | Claire Gem, Author

  2. Honored to be your guest today, Cate! I invite all who find my neo-gothic style intriguing to check out my upcoming novel, Spirits of the Heart, up for public voting here: It costs nothing but a moment of your time & a click.
    The cover is awesome – and I designed it myself, so I’d welcome feedback! Thanks again.


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