Arts and Entertainment

Debut romance novel 'Blitzing Emily' portrays a football-themed romance on the Eastside

Before writing “Blitzing Emily,” her debut novel released Tuesday, it was a lifelong aspiration of Julie Brannagh’s to write a book. As of Sunday, when she completed her most recent first draft manuscript, she’s written three entries of “Love and Football,” her series of pigskin-centric romance novels set in Seattle and the Eastside.

Prior to the latter half of the ‘00s, Brannagh had never written fiction and considered herself a “Serious Reader” — emphasis hers — who gravitated toward biographies and other nonfiction. She was one of those readers who rolled her eyes as she passed by the romance section; she now readily admits she didn’t know much about the genre.

But one day she opened one up and, to her surprise, she liked it. She liked her second one less but, what it lacked in quality, it made up for in inspiration.

“It made me think ‘Well, I could do this,’” she said. “Of course later I told that to my romance writer friends and it made them laugh.”

Around this time, she became interested in a message board operated by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who could be considered Brannagh’s spiritual predecessor in the genre of football romance. One day Phillips gave her online readers a challenge: write a 1,500-word meet-cute that could set up a romantic story.
Like so many writers before her, Brannagh came up with her meet-cute in the bathroom.

“Maybe I shouldn’t share this, but the dirty little secret of writers is that the best ideas come in the shower,” she said. “Or while doing housework.”

Her premise was this: An opera singer helping her sister’s flower shop with Valentine’s Day orders is injured during a delivery to the local NFL team’s star defensive end. He whisks her to the hospital and a little white lie to the staff creates a media rumor that the two are engaged. The rumor benefits both their careers and they decide to keep up appearances — until appearances become reality.

Brannagh knew it had potential, but it wasn’t ready to become a book. Julie was a business owner, the proprietor of a yarn shop in Duvall. She enjoyed it but, as the economy took a turn for the worse, she knew the store wasn’t long for this world. Looking toward her other great aspiration, Brannagh decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, a mass challenge to produce a full first-draft manuscript in the month of November.

The result?

“The worst piece of writing in the universe,” Brannagh said. “Let’s just say it’s in a landfill somewhere.”

But it was a valuable psychological exercise, Brannagh said. She knew she could do the work; she just had to figure out how to do it masterfully. Her husband, Eric, encouraged her to dust off her football premise.

Brannagh joined the Romance Writers of America and was surprised to learn what an ample membership it had.

“Washington is a hotbed of romance writers,” she said. “There are about 300 authors here ... within a 100-mile radius of Seattle.”

She learned the particulars of manuscript formatting and plotting character arcs from RWA and, while she spent the next six months working on “Blitzing Emily’s” manuscript, she delved into research on her characters’ careers. NFL news about the Seahawks proved invaluable to learning how players dealt with the press, and she kept regular contact with the Seattle Opera to accurately portray her heroine’s career.

It would take seven years and “a million words” — in which she polished her manuscript, submitted, collected rejection letters, gained an agent and wrote the sequel “Rushing Amy” — before her series was picked up by HarperCollins’ Avon Impulse imprint.

After reviewing an advance copy of the book, the end result is a fast-paced, entertaining read that stays true to the spirit of the greater Seattle area. A significant portion of the book takes place in Bellevue. It features real locations — the main characters share a romantic dinner in the Bank of America tower — and a number of fictionalized nods to real institutions. The Seahawks are replaced by the Seattle Sharks; male protagonist Brandon McKenna meets with the mayor of Bellevue; and the characters are at one point dogged by a pushy reporter from the “Bellevue Informer.”

Blitzing Emily” is available now in bookstores and online. The sequel, “Rushing Amy,” is due for release Feb. 11.


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