Gwyn Cready


The romance laureate of Pittsburgh

Just don’t call Gwyn Cready’s books “bodice rippers.”

Edited and adapted by Claire Zulkey

It all started with a pair of pink shoes in an airport.

Gwyn Cready, AB’83, MBA’86, a brand manager for nicotine replacement products at GlaxoSmithKline Healthcare, had written a historical romance novel, but couldn’t find a publisher. She had started work on the book after her sister, Claire, died unexpectedly in 1997 of angioedema at age 31. Cready wanted to do something to honor her memory: “She was very artistic—a poet and a photographer—and I was totally not those things.”

As the rejections kept coming, Cready’s agent encouraged her to write a second book, which seemed daunting after the first one took six years. Walking through the Pittsburgh airport in 2005, Cready spotted a pair of satin sandals in a store window. Inspiration struck: “What if I had a character whose high-heeled shoes took her back in time?”

Cready used the research she’d done for the first book (“I’m a good University of Chicago graduate,” she says. “I knew to use primary sources.”) and added time travel. The result was Tumbling Through Time (Pocket Books, 2008), about a UChicago alumna who tries on some pink shoes and ends up on the deck of a ship at sea in 1705.

Gwyn Cready book covers

Since then Cready, who divides her time between writing and consulting, has published six more time-travel romance novels, won a RITA award for paranormal romance fiction, and in February will publish Just in Time for a Highlander, the first in a trilogy set in Scotland.

Steamy covers
Authors have very little say about their covers unless they’re multibillion sellers. You get an email that says, “Here’s a look at your cover. It’s already been reviewed by the sales department.” This is code for, “You’re going to live with it.” For a time-travel book, you have to have “time” in the title, or to put the characters in modern clothes. You don’t want readers to go, “I thought this was [purely] historical and now I’m disappointed.”

How romance writers get treated
People assume that writing romances is like writing a grocery list. The assumption is that everyone can do it if they can just sit down and do it. Goody for me that I found the time to sit down and create the grocery list. The romance novel world is the literary world’s punching bag. Every bad article about romance fiction includes the phrase “bodice ripper.”

Winning the 2009 RITA award for Seducing Mr. Darcy
I was astounded when Romance Writers of America called to say I’d been nominated. It was only my second book. The nomination was a validation of 11 years of very hard—and for 10 of those years very unacknowledged—work.

They played the theme to the Pride and Prejudice miniseries with Colin Firth as I ran to the stage. I remember thinking, “How did they know I like that so much?” Then I remembered my book was about Pride and Prejudice. I carried my cell phone in my bra, which got a good laugh when I pulled it out, big as life on the Jumbotron, to look at the list of people I needed to thank.

On why e-book romances are so popular
E-readers are big for romance fans because they’re voracious readers. Once they’ve finished one, 30 seconds later they’re on to the next book.

Subversive sex
The reason in my mind that romance novels are so beloved by their readers is the same reason that they’re dismissed by the male-dominated literary world: they offer a view of sexual empowerment seen through the eyes of women. Romance novels assert that a woman’s sexual and emotional needs are important. That’s really subversive.


When you see the cover of your own romance novel for the first time, says Cready, “You have to hide your eyes with your fingers and pray you’re not going to faint.” (Portrait photography by Garen Dibartolomeo)