OAKLAND — When she isn't helping to put out fires, Rachael Herron is creating flames of a different kind.
The Alameda County Fire dispatcher is a soon-to-be published romance writer. In the fall she signed a contract with HarperCollins to write three romance novels. The first book with the working title "Love Spun" — about a rancher and a knitter — is scheduled to be published in 2010. The novel will also be published in Germany and Australia by different publishers.
For the Oakland resident and lifelong knitter, it's a dream come true.
"I've always written and always wanted to be a writer. That was my main goal," said Herron, 36.
Her day job also gives her time to write. She works 12-hour shifts at the dispatch center in Livermore and uses the three or four days off she gets, depending on her schedule, to write.
She also keeps a blog called Yarn-a-Go-Go, in which she muses about knitting, writing and life. Herron said she has been knitting since she was 5 years old.
"Admittedly, there's nothing like the rush of writing fast and well, galloping down a road of fabulous words. Only most days it's more like slogging through a pond of stagnant, smelly, overused words. That's not as much fun. That's what kind of day I had today, so I'M DONE for today," says one November entry.
The story idea for her first book came about two years ago, during National Novel Writing Month, where writers try to write
"I wrote a romance novel," she said. "It was the most fun thing I've ever written."
The plot involves a knitter who inherits a cottage on a rancher's land. They have to share a space.
"And sparks fly," Herron said.
Susanna Einstein a literary agent for LJK Literary Management in New York, said her assistant told her to look at Herron's work, which was in a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. Einstein normally doesn't represent romance writers but liked what she read.
"I loved the voice of the book," Einstein said." She's a very talented writer."
With the success of "The Friday Night Knitting Club," the knitting angle in Herron's book would piquÃ© the interest of editors, Einstein said.
"She's the kind of writer that publishers want to work with," Einstein said. "She takes editing really well. She's a flexible writer."
Four days after she offered the book around, a deal was in the works.
Einstein said she doesn't disclose how much her clients are paid, and Herron said she wasn't sure if she could talk about the monetary details, but said "it was a very good deal."
According to an informal survey by romance author Brenda Hiatt, the range for book advances for HarperCollins is about $5,000 to $10,000 and the standard royalty percentage is about 8 percent.
Herron, who has a master's degree in creative writing from Mills College, went into dispatching after she realized she didn't like teaching. She's worked with Alameda County since 2005 and previously dispatched for Alameda Police Department. She said the work is exciting and nerve-racking, but she gets to help people every day.
"Every time you pick up the phone there is a new story," Herron said.
Alameda County Fire Dispatch Manager Chuck Berdan described Herron as upbeat, and said she enjoys her work.
"She's a really intelligent person," Berdan said. "She's always been interested in how things are worded. She's very good about helping me with grammar and how to word things."
Herron doesn't use her day job as fodder for her stories, but she said she pays a little homage to it her stories.
"Somebody always has to call 911," Herron said. "The dispatcher always gets a line or two."
Reach Sophia Kazmi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-847-2122.