Now firmly established as one of the royalty of romance writers, Fern Michaels began writing in 1973. When she submitted her first manuscript she was sure it was going to be published. Actually, I was greedy. I thought I was going to be a millionaire. Her second manuscript crossed in the mail with the rejection letter of the first. The second manuscript was published, and Michaels has never looked back.

"I made $1,500 on the sale of that book and bought some things for the house." A frog toilet seat stands out in her mind. Since then she has written over 50 books, been on the New York Times bestseller list many times, and sold approximately 60 million copies of her books throughout the world.

But as Michaels knows, the only thing constant in life is change. After being with the same publisher for 22 years, Michaels accepted an offer from Kensington Books, fired her agent, and moved from New Jersey to South Carolina, all at the same time. It was a traumatic move as she made a quantum leap from the known to the unknown, from the fast track northern lifestyle to a slower Southern pace, and endured the resulting culture shock.

The change turned out to be for the best. Michaels now lives in an historic home (the oldest part was built in 1702) near Charleston. It's an L-shaped house with an unusual, convoluted layout and a resident ghost. "She came with the house; her name is Mary Margaret."

"It's not scary or spooky but Mary Margaret does let you know when she's around." One Christmas Day, in front of several eyewitnesses, the ghost decided to pass the plate, lifting a decorative platter from a stand and setting it gently on the floor. "No one wanted to touch that plate," the author says.

Late on sultry, breezeless days an empty front porch swing glides back and forth. "Clocks stop on Monday morning at ten after nine, but not every Monday. Sometimes months will go by before it happens again," Michaels says.

Her latest book, Listen to Your Heart, has a supernatural twist and a Mother's Day theme. This delightful story about orphaned twin sisters is set in New Orleans where Josie and Kitty Dupr run a catering business. With Kitty about to get married, Josie finds herself alone and at a crossroads. At times, Josie feels that their deceased mother is trying to send her a message. She senses her presence and smells her mother's cologne.

On the eve of the hectic spring catering season, Josie's life is turned upside down by the arrival of mysterious Paul Brouillette and his rambunctious boxer, Zip. After one look, Zip instantly bonds with Josie's tiny Maltese dog, Rosie. Despite all efforts to keep them apart, the two dogs are inseparable, resulting in problems for their owners. As the story unfolds, Paul and Josie are challenged to deal with issues of death and emotional abandonment as each of them learns to Listen to Your Heart.

Michaels says she writes from her own personal experience. "Anyone who writes a book and tells you there is nothing about them in it -- is full of it. I may try to disguise it, but that's me in 87 different directions." She also writes about her friends, like singer/songwriter Corinda Carford. The two met at an event and hit it off instantly. Both are gutsy ladies who love food, music, and animals and hate pantyhose. When Michaels received a copy of Carford's CD, she loved The Pantyhose Song and decided to include it in Listen to Your Heart.

Her love for animals comes through in her writing and in her life. When she learned from a news broadcast that a local police dog had been killed in the line of duty, Michaels had bulletproof vests made for every dog in the police department.

When asked what she feels is the best part of her writing career, Michaels says it's her readers. "I get a lot of e-mail. I wrote a book called Dear Emily about overweight people. At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to do it because I might offend people; it's such a sensitive subject. But after it was published I received the nicest letter from a lady who was on her third copy of the book. She had read it so many times; she knew it by heart. She said, 'You saved my life.' " It doesn't get any better than that.

Karen Trotter is a writer with romance in her soul and boogie in her feet.

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